Why you need to care about gratitude
by Heather Thatcher
This article takes 8 minutes to read
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So…let’s talk about the annoying elephant in the room.
It’s all over the internet that a #attitudeofgratitude will change your life.
Maybe you’ve already started a daily gratitude journal by writing down three things you’re grateful for every day.
At the beginning it’s fun, right?!
You’re feeling all the warm fuzzies about what and who you’re grateful for.
But then you start to see the same three things surfacing again and again.
It starts to feel a bit, well….boring.
And then this whole “attitude of gratitude” thing starts to lose it’s magic.
I’m going to make a case for gratitude, though, and also show you how you can keep this wonderful practice from going stale.
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Science shows us that gratitude not only makes a difference for our mental health and wellbeing, but there is evidence that shows how gratitude positively impacts our physical health and habits, too.
In 2013, a study done by the University of Illinois with the University of Zurich in Switzerland found a direct correlation between gratitude and the person’s ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle which included nutrition, exercise and stress management.
In 2019, another study was done that looked at self-reported levels of gratitude in the overall quality of life and mental health of a group of Iranian soldiers. Again, gratitude improved the quality of life and mental health by a statistically significant amount.
Now that you’re starting to buy into this attitude of gratitude trend, I want to tie it even more into what we’ve already been talking about on this podcast.
Compassion is what is going to heal this world and also ourselves, but self-compassion is something we’ll dive into at another time.
Compassion for ourselves and others is what connects us, and gratitude strengthens that connection and our belief in a just and fair world because we’re looking for evidence that proves that life is good!
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Gratitude’s a triple threat!
It improves your physical health, your mental health, and your ability to make an impact on your corner of the world and make a difference.
But, like I said before, gratitude is more than writing down three things you’re grateful for every day.
Absolutely, it’s still great to focus on the gratitude you have for a smaller grouping of things, people, and aspects of your life.
Gratitude is more than a daily journaling practice.
It’s a mindset and a lifestyle.
Think of it this way. If you were trying to lose weight, and ate one salad every day, but the rest of the day you ate piles of other food, had all kinds of sweet treats, salty snacks – you’re not going to lose weight, are you?
It’s the same kind of idea if you keep your gratitude practice to writing down three things you’re grateful for at the beginning or end of every day.
That’s your “gratefulness salad”.
But if you’re not opening your awareness to the gratitude you could experience throughout the rest of your day – you’re not shifting your physiology or reprogramming your default survival mode.
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How to increase your gratitude levels throughout the day
Gratefulness and mindfulness go hand in hand. And since we’re on the topic of research, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of research studies that have been done on the positive physical and mental health changes that occur when you’re applying mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies.
In fact, these mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR strategies are now a required component for many conventional, western medicine treatment programs for chronic illnesses and cancer. It’s that effective and the science behind it is that strong.
In my stress management course in the Ultimate Life Survival Guide membership community we dive real deep into MBSR and how to make it really effective in your life, but today we’re going to talk about how to combine the positive effects of mindfulness as it relates to gratitude.
But first – story time!
My husband and I got married in 2018, and prior to that some of my friends from the pediatric intensive care unit I was working hosted a bachelorette party for me. We went to two different craft brewery places, and then a craft winery for a late dinner. It was lovely, if you ever have the chance to try hibiscus beer, it’s delicious.
Dustin came to pick me up after it was all over and while we were waiting for Dustin to arrive, I looked out and saw one of the shipping yards in Vancouver lit up at night, with the mountains silhouetted in the background. And my friend, it was beautiful! I said this to my friends, and I’m pretty sure they thought I was drunk, which I wasn’t for the record. But they weren’t able to see or be grateful for that moment of beauty.
Dustin, though, parked, got out of the car and immediately took a picture of the shipyards with his phone.
He gets it too.
We were able to be in that moment, taking in the world around us and noticing beauty in the moment.
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That’s the magic of mindfulness and gratitude when combined together.
Your life becomes sparkly.
If you’ve ever been to a petstore or Disneyland with a 5 year old, you’ll know what I mean. They are living 110% in the moment, not even thinking about what happens after this, and they’re just focused on all of the amazing things they’re seeing around them.
But you don’t have to go somewhere special to be grateful for what’s happening around you.
On my daily walks with Takoda, some things catch me by surprise, like how when it’s -40 out how the sparrows all huddle together in the branches, quietly chirping away, keeping each other warm. Or how the sun warms my face. Or how the wind catches the scent of the beautiful flowers or the crispness of fall or winter.
Being mindful of your surroundings not only increases your ability to be grateful, but it also keeps you from getting caught off guard.
When we’re living in our stressed out, crazy hectic life, we’re so focused on what’s happening next, or later today, or after dinner, or tomorrow or the next week. We’re thinking so far ahead sometimes, we have mental blinders on.
And these blinders are one of the things that keep us reacting in default survival mode. These distracted blinders, leave our inner critic fearful of what might happen, and get caught up in all of the “what ifs” and worry.
Default survival mode makes it harder to be grateful
Default survival mode, with our Inner Critic in charge, keeps us focused on what we can’t control, what’s going wrong, and what we don’t want.
Living with conscious intention with our Objective Observer in the driver seat brings the calm and focus that we crave in this highly stressful, fast-forward world.
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That’s where mindfulness comes into play.
Mindfulness is the art of being aware of what’s happening, without assigning judgement or labels. The key to this has been and will always be “curiosity.”
As you’re starting your mindfulness practice, or strengthening it if you already have one, be curious and notice what’s happening without assigning emotions or judgement. If emotions do come up for you, come back to curiosity. Ask yourself why is this particular emotion coming up for me and why do I associate it with what I’m doing right now?
Within all this mindful self-discovery, also ask yourself what is there about this that I can be grateful for or can enjoy wholeheartedly?
Remember to always bring it back to gratitude – because gratitude is a magnet.
Maybe you’ve heard that before on some spiritual social media feed. But here’s the truth.
Gratitude attracts more abundance in your life.
It does this in two ways;
First, it opens up your awareness to everything that you already have and that you can be grateful for. Suddenly many aspects of the life you’re already living, become enough. This makes it easier for us to make the changes we need to fully realize our identity goal because, again, we’re making change from a place of self-compassion.
The second way gratitude brings more abundance into your life and acts like a magnet is because of our basic psychology. It’s in our instincts.
Have you ever met someone with a magnetic personality? They’re charming, kind, and happy, and people just love being around them.
You feel good when you’re with them because they make you feel heard, understood and respected. We are naturally drawn to positivity and happiness – both of which are direct products of gratitude.
Gratitude is more than trying to find a silver lining
Looking for the silver lining in things means that your focus and attention is on the negative, while you’re trying to find some sliver of hope.
Gratitude is the direct opposite of that. You’re embodying helpful, hopeful, healing energy.
Your action step for today is to go follow me on Instagram because every evening on my story I share a gratitude prompt that helps you think about gratitude in a whole new way.
No “think of 3 things you’re grateful for” happening over there!
We go way beyond the basics to start lowering our stress by noticing all the good we have working in our favor.
You can find me on Instagram @TheUltimateLifeSurvivalGuide
When you get there, comment on my latest post and use the hashtag #gratitude and I’ll follow up in your DMs with a free gift – from my heart to yours,
See you there!