What a Gratitude Practice is and the Health Benefits

November 14, 2023

I'll admit that I tend to be a bit of a dissatisfied individual. A lot of us are. During some of my own work in therapy I had spoken with my therapist about wanting to improve so many areas of my life. That I often look at my relationships and feel that they aren't where I want them to be, my physical health, my career, so on and so forth. Rather than asking me some tired question about how I felt about that, since he could already tell I wasn't enjoying it, he pointed out to me how my dissatisfaction has probably served me quite well throughout my life.

Dissatisfaction means that we are looking at something and saying, this could be better. If you think about it, all innovation and progress comes from dissatisfaction. We look at a system, process, or product and pick apart the little things inside of it all with this big assertion that "this could be better."

It helped me appreciate my dissatisfaction a bit more, recognizing that it's been able to take me to good and new points in my career. To be able to say, "I don't like the way we are doing mental health treatment and I want to help make it better." I've seen Thrive find more and more creative ways to help people. I truly believe that no practice in Phoenix offers more group therapy options or more robust services than we do. I will not assert that we are solely the best, because there are a lot of great people out there doing great work, but I think we might be the most innovative. And that innovation has been driven by dissatisfaction.

Seeing some of the good things about the dissatisfaction helped me to realize that it has a place and I can even express gratitude for it. But we begin to see an increase in our negative emotions when we start using certain tools for the wrong tasks. I was reaching for dissatisfaction too much when it came to appraising my life.

I decided I wanted to be a more grateful person and develop a higher sense of gratitude in my own life. As with any muscle, we have to train it if we want it to grow and so I decided to develop a practice of gratitude. Below we will go through some of the ways in which we can increase feelings of gratitude in our own live as well as some of the benefits of gratitude from a physiological standpoint. That's right, an attitude of gratitude can contribute to good health!

Who wouldn't want to make some positive contributions there especially when it's so easy!

Identifying Emotional Gratitude

Humans are excessively dependent on language and so it should be no surprise that when it comes to becoming more grateful people, we will need to tap into the language portion of our brain. For almost all of these practices I am going to suggest that you hand write things. Handwriting forces your brain to mentally engage with the content in a way that typing does not. However, if you are in a pinch and want to pull out your phone and open up the notes section to jot down a few things, doing so will be better than nothing.

For this practice, start your day with five things that you are grateful for, trying to add at least one different thing each day.

Rather than only writing down what we are grateful for, try and identify  the emotion that you experience when this is taking place. For example, you might recognize that you are grateful that your partner washed all of the dishes and cleaned the kitchen last night.

Try and take this a step further by identifying the positive emotions that you experience from this act. You might write something like, "When Robert takes care of the dishes the night before, I feel relief in my body knowing that there is one less thing that I am going to have to do the next day." Taking this a step further not only recognizes the grateful state we are in, but puts a bodily experience to this little gratitude.

Cards or Notes

My three year old loves going to the mailbox everyday. At this point in his life the journey is still whimsical. Who knows what is going to be inside of that mailbox when we open it!? Someday I am going to have to break it to him that it's mostly coupons, time share advertisements, and postcards from my local realtor wanting to just say "hey, call me if you need anything."

But every now and then, you open up the mailbox and you see your name handwritten on an envelop. You realize this might be an actual letter! Like written by an actual person or actual friend!

Who doesn't love a nice handwritten note? The people in your life are no exception to this. Sit down and write a letter of gratitude to a friend or family member. Or you can even just write a little post it note and drop it on somebody's desk. The words don't have to be flowery and poetic. It can be as simple as, "Jenna, you crushed it in your presentation last week! Thanks for being you!"

Practice Mindfulness

We experience mindfulness when we come into more contact with the present moment. Find an anchor to use throughout your day to use as an indicator to express gratitude. This could be every time that you check the clock or every time you see a school bus drive by. Use your body as a place to notice and express gratitude by bringing to attention the way that your body serves you. I've heard a quote before that says "The person with their health has many dreams. The person without it has only one."

I find this to be true that when our health is down, we seem to only be able to think about what life might be like if are feeling 100 percent. Try and bring some attention to part of your body that serves you well. It can be as basic as your mind or a limb. I try to draw some attention every now and then to an organ that is working perfectly. We rarely think about such parts of our body until they are not operating the way that we expect them to.

Stronger Relationships

It can be hard work to practice gratitude in our romantic relationships, especially if our partner does not speak the same "love language" as us. I like to think of this as if saying to my wife over and over again that I love her, but in Chinese. In this instance we will pretend my wife cannot speak Chinese (which she can't). It doesn't matter how loud I say it, if she doesn't understand the language or hasn't been taught it, she's not going to receive the gift.

I'm more of a quality time type of person, but my wife is one of the best gift givers I've ever met. I don't care that much about gifts and so I thought that these might fall short on me. But I've since learned not just to express thankfulness for her gifts, but truly to feel the love that she is giving to me. For instance, for Father's Day this last year she gave me one of my favorite gifts I've ever received, but it wasn't just the gift, it was how she gave it to me. She gave me three gifts, each paired with a word that my son would describe me as. The power drill was paired with the word "strong." There was a small box to store phone and wallet which was paired with the words "a safe place." And a small bag of candy with the word "sweet."

I did need a new drill, though that might also have been a gift for her so I could do projects around the house that she wanted completed. But the thoughtfulness and intention she brought into the gift made it so much better to receive. Next time, try and take note of your partner's love language that you might miss if you didn't but a bit more intention into recognizing the different ways they are trying to say "I love you."

Positive Impacts and The Science Of Gratitude

Gratitude has a host of benefits that come alongside it. A number of studies have been conducted over the years to bring data to support this belief. One study show that amongst a group health-care practitioners that after keeping a gratitude diary for two weeks, perceived stress had reduced by 28 percent and depressive symptoms decreased by 16 percent.

Grateful people have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure compared to those less grateful. (healh.ucdavis.edu)

Amongst some of the more noteworthy positive things, people experiencing suicidal ideation in an inpatient setting were tasked with writing gratitude letters. The findings showed that hopelessness was reduced in 88 percent or study participants in addition to a 94 percent increase in optimism.

Our overall mental health also increases when we engage in practices of gratitude. Adding these rhythms into our everyday life has been seen to show a decrease in anxiety symptoms and an overall improvement in sleep.

As you adopt your daily gratitude habit, I'd like to give you a few first steps to focus on. Try and begin with one of the above practices rather than implementing all of them at the same time. This can be a bit overwhelming for our brain and take away the simplicity of what we are going for. Focusing more on grateful feelings should be an exercise of levity, not stress. Trying to take on all of these at the same time can be a great way to fall off the track right away.

Next, if you find that you aren't jiving with one of the practices, try a different one!

I'd give anything you are attempting to incorporate a solid 4-5 days before jumping ship. But if you've given it a few days and there seems to be no connection, try something new.

Lately, give yourself some time to feel the positive effect as you focus on the word gratitude. If you water a houseplant once, it probably won't look too much different right away. But if you consistently water it, over time you will see the beauty unfold. Houseplants need sun, water, and love. And we are basically just houseplants with emotions.

Resources -

If you are wanting accountability in your gratitude practice, be sure to mention your goals to your therapist it ensure the accountability. If you are not seeing a therapist at this time, but are ready to get started, head to our team page and take a look at our therapists.

Our online membership is a great place to get more tools and resources such as this gratitude practice. Sign up for a free membership to get started!

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