If you read yesterday’s post you know that gratitude can make you happier and healthier. But what if you aren’t naturally a very grateful person?
Well you’re in luck because studies show that you can deliberately cultivate gratitude – increasing your well-being and happiness in the process. It just requires a little mindfulness on your part but I promise it will be worth it.
Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Decide to be grateful – The first step to changing is make up your mind. Start looking for new situations and circumstances in which to feel grateful, bring gratitude into your experiences, instead of waiting for something to feel grateful for.
Control your thoughts especially your self talk – Grateful people use language that evokes images of gifts, blessings, fortune, and abundance instead of deservingness, regrets, scarcity, and loss. One simple technique is to stop saying that that you have to do something and start using words like get to or will (trust me, this works). Consider reframing difficult circumstances (like changing your focus from how cold the weather is to the beauty of the snow on the ground). And if you’re facing something that doesn’t seem to have a silver lining try putting it in perspective – ask yourself ‘What good might come from this?’, ‘What will I be grateful for in the future?’, or ‘What can I learn here?’. The key to leading a thankful life is embracing setbacks as part of your overall journey without letting them take over your life.
Learn to live in the moment and look for things to be grateful for – Gratitude is a way of viewing the circumstances of your life, so don’t focus on what you don’t have – look for the good in what you DO have. Learn to find joy in the small things instead of holding out for the biggies like a promotion, getting married, or having a certain amount of money. Watch the sunrise over the lake, or savor how wonderful those fuzzy socks feel at the end of the day – whatever it takes to slow down and immerse yourself in the beauty that is all around you. If that’s a little challenging try watching this amazing TEDxSF video ‘A Good Day’ – I think I might just start watching this every morning!
Steep yourself in inspirational thoughts and motivational quotes. – It’s difficult to be unappreciative when are surrounded by reminders of your blessings. You could sign up for daily motivational emails, get familiar with a holy text, or create and display a Gratitude Board filled with the people and experiences that you are most grateful for.
Put it in your schedule – Pick a TIME to focus on your blessings every day, it could be while you brush your teeth, during your commute, when you do a Minute Movement or (my favorite) while you fold laundry. Or you could use the old standby and keep a gratitude journal. I have a friend who keeps a family gratitude journal on the dining room table making gratitude an integral part of the evening meal. Whatever you do, setting aside time on a daily basis to remember how fortunate you are helps you retrain your brain to notice the positive.
Help other people and touch their lives in a meaningful way – GIVE to others. Give genuine compliments. Give your entire focus while you talk. Give your time and your money and yourself. Become involved in a cause that it worthy to you. Especially try to serve others in some way beyond just writing a check – when you interact with someone who is less fortunate than yourself, it helps you see your life in a different light. At the very least invite someone to share in the experience of gratitude and wonder that you’re developing – grab someone you love, pull them aside, and ask ‘isn’t the sunset beautiful tonight?’
Invest in the people you love – Practice telling the people in your life something you appreciate about them every day, write a letter to someone who has had a positive influence on your life, have coffee with a friend and relish the feeling of belonging.
Tomorrow is the perfect day to start developing the habit of gratitude. Enjoy time with your people, count your blessings, say a prayer for someone who’s struggling.
Make Your Minutes Matter
I know that most people focus on gratitude in early November but I’m a bit of a rebel. While I think calendar events that encourage self reflection are great, they should serve as reminders to get back on track instead of creating finite pockets of contemplation on various aspects of our lives. No one would argue that we should save love and romance for Valentine’s Day so why should we regulate thanksgiving to the month of November? This week (just before the Christmas rush really sets in) seems like the perfect time to practice the art of gratitude (which is expressing appreciation for what you have instead of focusing on your wants or needs).
My research unearthed several studies that were similar to one another both in format and outcome. In each of these studies, researchers instructed three groups of participants to journal about events or circumstances that had recently affected them. One group was told to focus their journal entries on events that they were grateful for, another on events that had displeased them, and the final (control) group was not given direction regarding the focus of their entries.
The studies found that people who practice gratitude (and this IS a practice, more about that tomorrow) enjoy a multitude of positive side effects in many aspects of their lives.
EMOTIONALLY, grateful people tend to experience higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and optimism. They reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, and lower levels of depression and stress. In fact one study showed that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by about 25% (even to the extent that “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude group reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control group.”
Grateful people reported fewer HEALTH complaints, better energy, more regular exercise, more (refreshing) sleep and even a stronger immune system (according to Robert Emmons, Ph.D.,professor of psychology, and author of “Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.” Gratitude functions as “a psychological immune system that bulletproofs you in times of crisis,”)
Of course, being grateful also impacts our SOCIAL lives, leaving us feeling considerably more connected with others – which makes us more likely to help them with their emotional or personal problems.
And for those of us struggling to make ends meet, gratitude appears to help us make greater progress toward achieving personal goals (SUCCESS), for all of the reasons above and because people who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back from adversity more quickly, and have stronger relationships (which can be a plus when you want to move up the corporate ladder).
So, it looks like gratitude really can make you happier and healthier but what if you just aren’t a very grateful person? Does that mean you’re doomed to never reach the heights of the grateful? Research does suggest that your body strives to maintain a basic level of happiness at a predetermined point similar to the way it strives to maintain a certain weight that feels natural, so when something bad happens to you, your happiness may drop for a while but will return to it’s natural ‘happiness set-point’. But deliberately practicing gratitude can raise your “happiness set-point”, allowing you to remain at a higher level of happiness regardless of outside circumstances. Check back tomorrow for a list of our favorite ways to increase your gratitude every day.
I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is in less than ONE WEEK – this year has absolutely flown by (I’m not really sure why that keeps surprising me though – every single year). I ran across this post on FoodMatters.tv with tips for a healthier Thanksgiving and thought I’d share today – just in case you’re concerned about your diet over the holidays. They included some of the usual suspects (eat more veggies, skip the booze, and be mindful of what you’re eating) but it’s always good to refresh your memory, especially this time of year. I was particularly struck by #6 (Look after you). It’s so easy to let peer pressure ruin even the best plan – and SO HARD to turn Grandma down when she’s adding food to your plate.
I think we’re going to try making a cauliflower/mashed potato hybrid I found at hungry-girl.com (see below) and since we’re eating gluten free over here (medical reasons) I’m going to play with a wild rice based dressing this year.
Stop by our Facebook page to share your stay-healthy plans for Thanksgiving.
HG’s Miracle Mashies
PER SERVING (1/5th of recipe, about 2/3 cup): 82 calories, 1g fat, 168mg sodium, 16g carbs, 3g fiber, 2g sugars, 3g protein —PointsPlus® value 2*
Mixing cauliflower and potato is a GREAT way to get true mashed potato taste and texture, with a healthier, lower calorie spin. Woohoo!
One 12-oz. russet potato
3 cups cauliflower florets
3 tbsp. fat-free half & half
1 tbsp. light whipped butter or light buttery spread
1/4 tsp. salt, or more to taste
Optional seasoning: black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, peel and cube potato.
Add cauliflower and cubed potato to boiling water. Once returned to a boil, reduce heat to medium. Cook until potatoes and cauliflower are very tender, 15 – 20 minutes.
Drain and transfer cauliflower and potato to a large bowl. Add half & half, butter, and salt. Thoroughly mash and mix. Enjoy!
MAKES 5 SERVINGS
The Day My Son Gave Up on Me is a fantastic (and kind of heart wrenching) example of why we say ‘Make Your Minutes Matter’ by blogger Lauren Cormier who shares her heart with us as she recounts the night that her son said ‘Mommy was always grumpy when I’d call her to come back up to cuddle, so I stopped asking.’ I am so impressed that little Eli was willing and able to express his feelings and that the author immediately realized their true impact. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she was willing to share her story (reality check).
‘Cuddle Time’ used to be a pretty big deal around my house too and I’ve let myself get too distracted and busy to take that special time with my children in the past couple of years. And I think it really has been YEARS since it was a nightly event – which is probably a bigger deal for my daughter, who’s younger and still interested in that time with me.
I really believe that the little things – especially the little kindnesses – make such a huge difference. I don’t ever want the people in my life to think that laundry or Facebook – or really anything in the entire world – is more important to me than they are. I have to constantly be reminded to live mindfully – in what I eat, in how I care for my body, and in how I treat my loved ones.
I don’t ever want anyone to give up on me, not even myself.
Make Your Minutes Matter
As Christmas items begin filling my mailbox and the shelves in my favorite stores I find it challenging to focus on anything other than making the holidays meaningful for my family.
Gift lists, special events, extra cooking, shopping, and decorating – I honestly love it all but I can absolutely feel myself beginning to experience the physical signs of stress from the very moment that I spot that first Christmas light. …
We all know that stress isn’t good for us – it doesn’t even feel good – the racing heart, and tensed muscles are pretty obvious and uncomfortable. But I was a little surprised how seriously damaging chronic stress can be to our brains …
Chronic stress can increase distraction, forgetfulness, negativity, anxiety, fear, and aggression. Continuous exposure to stress hormones can decrease brain function and the generation of new neurons ‘critical for learning, memory, emotional regulation and shutting off the stress response after the stressful event is over’ ultimately creating a negative impact on decision making, working memory, complex cognitive behavior, and moderation of social interaction and impulse control – going so far as to change the physical structure of your brain!
‘The result is a brain that is less capable of learning and memory, and more prone to anxiety and depression’ with ‘significant consequences on the way we interact with others, our ability to learn, remember, make decisions and accomplish long-term goals.’ Making it more ‘difficult to successfully manage stressful situations in the future, leading to a vicious cycle.’
Sounds pretty dreary -lucky for us EXERCISE is a ‘very effective antidote to these negative effects’ which ‘can help build a stress-resistant brain in addition to increasing cognitive function and brain size.’
So, like I mentioned last week, even though you may want to hibernate as the temperature falls, keep moving your body and you might experience the most wonderful time of the year as your best self. And just in case you aren’t doing your Minute Movements – now would be a fabulous time to start!