Are you feeling happy or grateful?
When did you last give thanks for the little blessings in your life?
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball or a collection of ‘issues to deal with’ mount up and distract you from all the positive things in your life?
But gratitude practice (not just the odd happy moment) can really build emotional resilience to help us ‘weather the storm’.
Several studies are pointing to gratitude and thankfulness as key factors in how happy and even how healthy we are.
A 2009 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined blood flow in the brain when participants had grateful feelings (Zahn et al, 2009). Those participants who were more grateful had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for managing stress levels and essential bodily functions like eating and sleeping.
Another study, back in 2003, asked young adults to keep journals (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). One section kept happy, thankful, grateful thoughts in their journals, whilst the others kept journals of things that annoyed them. And guess what … the thankful journal keepers reported more feelings of determination, enthusiasm and energy compared to the others.
The same researchers did a later study on adults and found that even a weekly gratitude journal was enough to have a noticeable effect on mood, exercise patterns and a reduction in physical ailments.
So … when it comes to down days, perhaps we all need to be a little more grateful.
How can you be a little more thankful?
In 2013, we decided to keep a ‘thankfulness’ jar in our family. When something good happens, in work, or at home, or to one of us, we write it down and pop it in the jar. Admittedly we haven’t always been great at remembering (it’s a habit we need to work at) but it’s fun to get them all out on new year’s eve and say a huge thank you for the great things that have happened to us.
I’d thoroughly recommend the practice. It gets the whole family involved in the ‘attitude of gratitude’ and if you pop quirky things in there, it’s also a good laugh. One year we all celebrated that daddy did a bit of DIY or my youngest did her first poo in the toilet. It’s also nice for the kids to be able to write although we also pop beads, buttons or sparkles in the jar when something really lovely happens.
I’ve also recently re-started my gratitude journal. It’s a 2 minute task in the morning before the kids get up – usually done with my first cup of tea and absolutely before I look at social media. It’s up to you how you do it but having a separate note book is ideal and perhaps using a favourite pen – I use a fountain pen since I can focus more on what I’m writing this way. Write at least 3 reasons to be grateful. This could be a warm cup of tea in your favourite mug or the freedom you have to make choices. Just focusing on what you have can help you feel happy with your lot rather than focusing on what’s missing. For someone who’s internal failure tape game is strong, a gratitude journal is my way of taking control over those inner demons.
But when it comes to me and my rambling, busy brain, the best moment of the day is when I get on my knees, stare at my sleeping kids, and give thanks for each and every lovely thing that has happened during my day. Yes, sh*t happens. And yes, it gets to me (I’m a sensitive soul) but whether you call it counting your blessings, acknowledging the good stuff, meditating or praying it is scientifically proven to make you happy.
**First published October 2013. Revised May 2017**
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Karen Laing is a women’s health exercise specialist and writer. Karen teaches Pilates in Epping, Essex and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing.
Karen co-directs Fit School with husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
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