Thanksgiving is always the time of year we carve a little time out to reflect on the things we’re thankful for — whether it be a quick roundtable discussion or a 30-day challenge throughout November. But what if I told you the power of gratitude is so much more than one holiday a year, and that those feel-good moments, if felt daily, could actually improve your health and life? All you need is one simple, but life-transforming habit: practicing daily gratitude.
Now, I have become what’s known as a “thought leader” in gratitude and optimism, and it all started with making a commitment to writing down three things I was thankful for each day. Seven years later, I have over 7,500 social media posts, a book and a podcast all focused on practicing gratitude. Here’s what I’ve come to learn:
There’s a science to gratitude, and it’s pretty awesome for your health
First, let me say there are many different definitions of what gratitude actually is, so I will define it as the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to you. Research has shown that gratitude is associated with an enhanced sense of personal well-being. It’s more than a simple feeling of thankfulness; it’s also the readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness. You know that feeling when you give someone you love a gift just because of how special they are to you? It’s like that.
The feeling of being grateful releases powerful neurotransmitters called dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, which means your brain is positively impacted when you feel grateful and fortunate. In the meantime, cortisol, the stress hormone, is actively suppressed. Reducing cortisol is one of the most important benefits for your mental health and heart health. I’ll put it like this: if serotonin is the feeling you get on that perfect, sunshine-on-your-face summer day, then cortisol is the feeling you get when you’re stuck in traffic on your way to an important meeting. Our brains have the ability to grow stronger with every experience, and we have the ability to frame the way we feel about each experience.
There are different ways to practice gratitude, and each can transform your life
Find a way that works for YOU on a consistent basis. I started by writing in a journal, then created a gratitude group text message, and now I write my three things I am grateful for on my bathroom mirror every morning. No matter when you do it, the key is to find a way that makes it easy and meaningful for you. Don’t overthink it — just focus on putting your mind in a headspace of the present moment and think about what would devastate you if you lost it.
I started to find moments throughout my day that triggered a stress response to insert my gratitude practice. For example: a red light on a day I was running late. I felt like the two minutes before it turned green took an hour and my stress peaked. That’s the moment that I decided to change my mindset. I knew I could not control anything about the red light, so instead of being stressed, I thought about what was going well in my life and filled my mind with peace and calm. Gratitude shifts your mindset to think about something differently, even if the thing doesn’t change.
Another transformative moment to practice gratitude is with your partner and/or kids. Children are oftentimes pros at practicing gratitude because they know how to live in the moment better than adults do. Not only can you benefit from their example, but taking the time to recognize how much you do for each other will shift the thinking from the things you want or lack into ways you all can give more. (Remember the science I mentioned before?)
In a world of uncertainty, gratitude provides you certainty
When we deal with constant stress and anxiety, it’s easy to feel like we aren’t enough or that things are just too out of control. But by reinforcing our gratitude, we can preserve our mental health by seeing the good in every situation. When you wake up in the morning, your cup of coffee will be something you enjoy, not something you need. Obligations become opportunities and “to-do” lists become “get-to-do” lists. Gratitude is the key to your well-being and sustained mental health, heart health and spiritual health. Once you see the world through a grateful lens, you will never be able to go back to seeing the world any other way. Develop the habit for yourself, share it with others, and make random acts of kindness less random by making this world a more grateful place.
TJ Sweet is an author, speaker, thought leader, mindset coach and host of the podcast “Living the Sweet Life.”