The Power of Gratitude

| Health and Wellness

Jeune garçon tenant une pancarte disant que je suis reconnaissant

Every October, families across Canada get together to enjoy each other’s company over Thanksgiving dinner. This holiday is about family togetherness, and it’s also an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate life’s blessings and riches.

Thanksgiving reminds us to feel grateful for what we have, but we really ought to cultivate an attitude of gratitude all year ’round. Why? Gratitude offers many benefits, from greater happiness and self-esteem to better mental health and even a stronger immune system.

And that’s not all. Research has found that people who practice gratitude consistently tend to sleep better, have lower blood pressure, exercise more, have fewer aches and pains, and feel more alert, optimistic and alive. Socially speaking, grateful people are more outgoing, and they’re less likely to feel lonely or isolated.

When the going gets tough…

Focusing on gratitude can also help us weather difficult situations. We can’t control every aspect of our lives, but we can influence how we respond to challenges.

Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at UC Davis who is a leading expert on gratitude, says that a grateful attitude is essential when we’re dealing with life’s problems. “In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life,” he said, writing for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine. When a disaster happens to us, “gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.”

Grow your gratitude

Feeling grateful, especially when you’re dealing with life’s challenges, takes effort. Here are a few ways to cultivate your sense of gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Studies have found that keeping a gratitude journal helps people feel, sleep and function better. To get started, pick a notebook or notepad that you will only use for journalling. At the end of each day, write down three to five things you’re grateful for – anything you like. This will help you make a habit of looking for the positives in daily life. (Prefer to use your smartphone? Download the Grateful app.) You could also try weekly gratitude writing prompts to get the juices flowing.
  • Write thank-you notes. Expressing gratitude to someone can improve your own happiness as well as that of the person you’re thanking. It can also help you strengthen your relationships. Try writing a thank-you card or letter to someone who has made a positive impact on your life. You might be surprised by how much people appreciate a simple handwritten note. Or, instead of writing a note, express your gratitude by doing something nice for someone.
  • Live more mindfully. As you go through your day, pay closer attention to your activities and experiences. For example, when eating a meal, take your time, and don’t watch TV or check your phone. Focus on the food and its ingredients, and the different textures, aromas and flavours. Think about where the food came from, and how fortunate you are to be enjoying it. Slowing down like this will also help prevent overeating
  • Practice meditation. Focusing on gratitude and abundance as you meditate can give you a greater sense of well-being. To get started, choose a comfortable, quiet place without distractions. Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Relax your shoulders and neck. Close your eyes or stare gently at a spot on the floor. You can silently think about reasons to be grateful, or repeat a mantra (“I am grateful for…”). Want to try a guided gratitude meditation? Listen to a 10-minute recording like this one.

Remember, cultivating gratitude takes time and practice, but the longer you do it, the more physical and psychological benefits you may see.

Additional resources

How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times” by Robert Emmons (Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley)

Gratitude Quiz (Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley)

Read more blog posts from our special Call Your Mom series.

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