The Healing Power of Gratitude

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

In this post you'll learn about wonderful habits for living your best life: practicing gratitude. It's easier than you think!

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

It’s a no-brainer that positive thoughts feel good. Even the simple act of smiling or laughing when you need a little boost works wonders. But you don’t need to be surrounded by rainbows and sunshine and giggles to reap the benefits of positive feelings. One of the most powerful ways to find the good in life is to find a moment each day to practice a little gratitude. It’s easier than you might think. Maybe things aren’t perfect in your life, but when you tossed your tear-streaked kleenex in the trash it was a slam dunk. Or maybe your cat turned a piece of trash into a toy and you suddenly caught a glimpse of her kitten-like joy. You could even find thanks that your socks are keeping your feet warm. You could begin with a simple one-sentence journal entry of something you’re thankful for each day, or you might take a moment before sleep to think of one good thing—no matter how small. Wondering why this practice might make a difference in your day to day? Here are a handful of reasons:

1. Be present in your day and feel more alive!

Gratitude helps you to slow down and enjoy. When you take a moment to be grateful for an apple, you’re more likely to pay attention to its textures, tastes, and sounds. Taking a moment to savor the taste of a piece of fruit (or a favorite snack), and to really take note of how delicious and nourishing it is to your body. We can so easily get lost in thoughts and cumulative anxieties, we live in worries about the future and troubled thoughts over past events, but just paying attention to an apple is a moment of pure mindfulness.

 

2. Cultivate curiosity

A beautiful thing happens when you start to look for things to be grateful for. You’ll start to notice more good things. You may be thankful for a day of clear good weather, which helped your garden reach its green leaves toward the sun. This warm feeling becomes addictive, and soon you’ll be thankful for the flowers and their sweet scent, the warmness of the ground after a long summer day, the basil flavoring your dinner, and the smile from your neighbor as you gather food. Once you start looking for things to savor, you will find them all around. This warm feeling becomes addictive, and soon you’ll be thankful for the flowers and their sweet scent, the warmness of the ground after a long summer day, the basil flavoring your dinner, and the smile from your neighbor as you gather food. Once you start looking for things to savor, you will find them all around. This warm feeling becomes addictive, and soon you’ll be thankful for the flowers and their sweet scent, the warmness of the ground after a long summer day, the basil flavoring your dinner, and the smile from your neighbor as you gather food. Once you start looking for things to savor, you will find them all around.

 

3. Multiply your moments of joy

As some philosophies have wisely observed, life is made up of much pain and suffering. The stresses of everyday living pile up quickly, but when you practice gratitude regularly, you multiply your potential moments of joy to mix in with the demands. You may be rushing to an appointment on your way to receive bad news, but the grateful mind is primed to find a sliver of happiness in the overheard sound of a child playing, or the warm feeling of your coat against a cold wind. Even the shimmer of new fallen snow can be a source of unexpected joy!

 

4. Reduce anxiety (and stop negative thought spirals)

It may be difficult to precisely measure how gratefulness can reduce stress and anxiety, but it’s not hard to imagine that when the world seems to be crumbling around you, it’s a wonderful gift to be able to find the good lurking amongst the bad.   And by recognizing the good in others, you may in turn recognize the good in yourself and find some needed self compassion. By slowing down to look for beauty in the world, you slow down the train of negative thoughts that can easily take over. Not only do you increase your positive feelings, but you now can reduce the negative ones and diffuse those negative thought spirals. You can even thank yourself for doing a positive thing. Perhaps you did the laundry over the weekend and made Monday a little easier for yourself. You deserve a little pat on the back! Being grateful to yourself can be a beautiful exercise in self care.

 

5. Improve your outlook, improve your health

A study at the University of Pennsylvania examined gratitude, measuring happiness scores over a period of 10 weeks while subjects kept a gratitude journal. The result was a huge increase in optimism! It’s easy to imagine what happens next… optimistic people take better care of their health, get plenty of physical activity, and are quicker to recover from illnesses. By encouraging this habit in yourself and others, you’ll learn to flex that muscle that finds the good before the bad. You’ll learn to be thankful when there seems to be nothing to be thankful for. You’ll be the person who can find the silver lining, or the glass half full. And then you’ll find you spend less time searching for good things, because your mind is open to the possibility of joy. What a wonderful habit for living your best life.