During the holiday cheer and chaos we are easily reminded to stay thankful for our family, our friends, and the precious time we have with them, but its important to keep our focus on gratitude once the gifts are all exchanged, and the snow has stopped falling. When the new year rolls around, we often spend our precious mental energy making resolutions, and planning our next big goals. While this can be helpful to some degree, often this practice adds extra pressure to our already frenetic lives, and also takes us away from the gifts we are already experiencing in this present moment. Practicing gratitude can actually change your life and likely help you achieve all those goals anyhow. Here are7 reasons to start or recommit to a gratitude practice in 2017.
1. Increase Well-Being & Satisfaction
Writing about what you are grateful for might be one of the most profound ways you can affect your brain patterns for the better. In a study that measured people who wrote letters of gratitude for several weeks, experimenters found that the subjects’ prefrontal cortex had greater activity even three months later. This area of the brain is associated with developing well being and happiness. Additionally, research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, has shown that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can greatly increase our overall well-being and life satisfaction.
2. Attract More Good in Your Life
Want more time with your family or more prosperity? Research has shown that by focusing on the time or money we already have, and being grateful for it, actually creates new neural pathways in the brain, and subconsciously we start to figure out ways to have more of those things in our lives.
3. Find Real Solutions to Problems
Rick Hansen, PhD and author of Buddha’s Brain suggests that our brain had to evolve in such a way that we could fight or flee in the face of danger. This habit has been reinforced over thousands of years, and is the reason for our brain’s tendency to suspect the worst and remember difficulties long after the actual danger of any situation has passed. This pattern affects internal self-talk, relationship patterns, learning capacity and even world politics. By practicing gratitude, we actually help the brain self-create the antidote to fight or flight. Gratitude is a form of transformational thinking that helps us to find real solutions to problems instead of running from them or freezing when faced with them.
4. Experience More Joy
In what is being called self-directed neuroplasticity, or the rewiring of the flexible brain, we can practice gratitude in order to cultivate true happiness. With practices like mindfulness meditation and conscious gratitude practices, we can rewire the neuronal pathways to more consistently experience joy and pleasure instead of fear and pain.
5. Gratitude is Teachable Skill
Angeles Arrien, a teacher, author, and cultural anthropologist, who is affectionately called the “Gratitude Lady” says that according to many traditional cultures, “There are really three medicines that you should put in your medicine bundle every day, which are the power of genuine acknowledgment and gratitude, genuine apology, and the spirit of laughter and joy.” Arrien says that even for people who don’t experience gratitude naturally, they can develop this mental state so that it becomes a mental condition that they experience often.
6. Improve Heart Health
Gratitude has been linked to decreasing heart failure. For some this may seem like an outlandish claim, but for ancient yogis and martial artists, the subtle energy of the heart is well known. The anahata chakra, or heart chakra regulates our experience with others around us, and connects us to the spiritual world, so cultivating gratitude would, of course, help the energy of the heart to flow without being interrupted.
7. Have Better Friendships
Expressing gratitude promotes ‘pro-social’ behavior. In other words, people are more inclined to want to be around you, be open to talking to you, and generally want to socialize with you if you are in the habit of feeling and talking about how blessed you feel. This practice helps people to feel valued.
Remember to count your blessings all year. Need more gratitude? Get more oxytocin. Scientists have found that people tend to feel more grateful when they have a little extra boost of oxytocin. This is the hormone released by our pituitary gland when we give and get hugs, or experience physical closeness. Funny how giving someone else a hug is just as effective as getting one, and it can boost your sense of gratitude in the process. Not only will it bring you greater joy, but being thankful brings well-being and happiness to those around you, also.
About the Author:
Christina Sarich is a freelance writer, musician, yogi, and humanitarian. The second edition of her book, Pharma Sutra, is now available at her website: YogafortheNewWorld.com.