November is often a month when people engage in a gratitude. It might be one day at the Thanksgiving table or a month long “gratitude challenge” where people engage in writing down what they are grateful for each day (and often post on social media). The power of gratitude has been research extensively and the science has shown that engaging in gratitude regularly throughout the year has wonderful benefits for our mental health and relationships.
Human beings are biologically wired for negativity.
We had to be for the survival of our species. Our brain is trained in a way that our thoughts effect our emotions. If we focus our thoughts on the negative, our emotions respond accordingly. The same is true for focusing on something more positive, like gratitude. We have a positive response to what we focus on.
What we are now learning through the research of neuroplasticy and positive psychology is that we have the ability to rewire our brains in order to more towards a more neutral place. Being able to focus on positives in our lives can help us both physically and emotionally. We find in trauma research that when we are able to focus on parts of our body or an image that feels pleasant or support us, it can help ground us and support pain management as well as a decrease in the intensity of trauma symptoms when they arise.
The Research on Gratitude.
One a research study Amelia Dennis and Jane Ogden in 2022 explored how a two-week intervention using nostalgia, gratitude and optimism increased the well-being of participants during the pandemic. The effects of gratitude on couples during the pandemic was researched by Jiang, Chui, and Lui, showing that positive support contributed to a reduction in stress.
How else does gratitude improve relationships? We all have a desire to feel connected to others. This is why having supports in our life is so important. Our supports may by our friends, family, or partner. Researchers John and Julie Gottman have studied what make relationships work for decades. Through their work, they have constructed a blueprint called “The Sound Relationship House” that explains the different elements that contribute to positive relationships. One of these principles is fondness and admiration. They explain many different strategies on how to cultivate this, one being meditating on the positive attributes of our partners. It’s also important to share with our partner what we appreciate about them or thank them for something they have done.
What are some ways to engage in gratitude.
Take time each day to write down 1-3 things you are grateful for. I encourage clients to keep a positives journals. I give various prompts for client’s to journal about, but the constant is writing one thing you are grateful for each day.
Record the good things in an app. I like the app “The 3 Good Things.” One of the things I like about this app is that under each good thing, you write how you felt. This helps us see the connection about what happened to how we feel.
Go into the world looking for things that delight you. You can take it to the next level by putting up your pointer finger and saying out loud, “Delight!” when you see something delightful. It’s silly and gives your brain something to smile about. Catherine Price talks about this on the Podcast “The Happiness Lab” where she is a guest.
Tell the people you love what you appreciate about them on a regular basis. It feels nice for both you and the person you are saying it to.
Meditate on the person, place, or thing you are grateful for. This helps give you a visual picture that you can always go back to when the negative starts to show up and take over.
I encourage you to take the gratitude you might express in November with you throughout the year.
Is it easy to keep up a gratitude practice? Not always, but that’s why it’s a practice. If you forget for a while, notice without judgement and start up again.
If you are looking for support and live in California or Texas, please contact me for a free 15 minute chat to see if we would be a good fit in working together.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional.