THIS Is Why Gratitude Makes Us Happier
Written by: Kavata Kithome
Every time we sat down to have dinner, my father would take the opportunity to impart his wisdom by sharing his life experiences. Sometimes he would regale us with stories to teach us in funny and whimsical ways.
One night over my mother’s amazing kritharaki, my father told us a story of two angels. At that time in my life I was so into pretty things that fly, so of course I keenly listened to this story.
He began the story, “There once were two beautiful angels that worked closely with God. One day they were talking in a beautiful garden in heaven, but each time they started talking one of the angels had to run and take care of something and would come back very tired and overwhelmed while the other one would leisurely walk around the garden while he waited for his friend.
“A passer-by watched this happening for some time and finally was curious enough to ask the angel that was leisurely walking around the garden why his friend seemed to be dashing off all the time while he (angel in the garden) seemed not to have a care in the world.”
Of course by now I am at the edge of my seat; you see, like everything, my father has a flare for telling stories and as he continued the story, he said, “the angel replied, ‘you see, my friend is the angel who processes prayer requests of the people and me, I process gratitude. I don’t get a lot of those so I spend most of my day in this garden walking, meditating and admiring the beauty.’”
I remember how my heart immediately sank as I heard my father’s words. I tried to remember the last time I said thank you and drew a blank.
This story still resonates with me even today, mainly the part about gratitude and how important it is to be grateful. Gratitude is a big part of our transformation process here at Fitlife. Why, you may ask? Simply put… you deserve to be happy! If you focus on what you are grateful for, you’ll likely realize that your troubles aren’t as bad as they seem.
There are also biological reasons of why gratitude is important and how it works for you:
- Your brain understands gratitude as optimism.
Did you know that optimism, regular positive thoughts and reactions to life’s challenges are observable in brain scans? Optimistic thoughts calm and soothe the amygdala (your alarm system when stressed). Optimism also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, releases pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and relaxation.
- Consistently practicing gratitude trains the brain to choose positive thoughts.
Thoughts become things. Your thoughts and words of gratitude are powerful triggers of optimism. When these thoughts are repeated frequently, the brain connects thoughts and words of gratitude with a sense of well-being. Eventually, new neural pathways are formed, which is what happens with any habitual thought pattern (good or bad). This is a way to harness your knowledge to encourage a positive outcome.
- Consistency is the key to changing your mindset and your life.
I think for the most part I am a pretty positive person, but sometimes life can get the best of me and I find that is hard to hold on to my positivity. Just like any new habit, refining an attitude of gratitude takes practice. This may mean being grateful every day in one form or another.
Here are a few helpful hints to get you started in changing your mindset:
- It’s the thought that counts.
You can simply spend a few minutes thinking grateful thoughts when you first wake up or before you get out of bed, think of all the things you are thankful for in your life – your loved ones, your home, your job, your body, etc. Make a mental list and you’ll start experiencing the positive benefits of gratitude.
- Try a gratitude notebook.
As my gratitude practice evolved, I set aside time every evening to write in my gratitude notebook, dedicating time to focus on all the positivity and beauty that flooded my day. I would go to bed feeling super blessed and elated and couldn’t wait for the next day. This always sent warm fuzzies to my brain.
- Spread the love.
Tell others how grateful you are for them, in small ways every day or every week. Each act of gratitude will not only feel good for those on the receiving end, but it will also flood your brain with good feelings that can have a profound effect on your life.
Thanks to my father, I have always had an attitude of gratitude and my life experiences have been richer for it. I have some “Gratitude Philosophies,” if you will, that have kept me afloat over the years and they are as follows:
- Gratitude is mindfulness that, as things come to you, are exactly what you need – be it people, circumstance, or challenges.
- Worry is the opposite of gratitude; it is the failure to understand that you have been and will continue to be provided for each day.
- Whenever fear over your future intrudes, stop to observe a tree. Contemplate how the tree continues to stand tall and grow throughout the various cycles and seasons of its life span.
- Worry is an action. Gratitude is an action. Both are optional. By choosing gratitude you drive out the space and time for worry.
- It isn’t hard to do; gratitude is simply noticing the good stuff in your life.
- What you pay attention to, or notice, tends to expand and grow. Where you mind goes, energy tends to flow.
- Each day brings a multitude of opportunities to feel gratitude and appreciation.
- When you neglect the action of appreciating, you limit your potential for joy and contentment in the present moment.
- Worry does not prevent bad things from happening; it only prevents you from accessing joy in this moment.
- The present moment is the only place where joy and contentment can exist.
What can you start doing today to practice gratitude? Here are 25 ways to practice gratitude:
- Send a thank you card.
- Donate to a cause or company for their efforts to create a positive impact you support.
- Volunteer locally.
- Write in your gratitude journal.
- Recycle as gratitude for the planet’s resources.
- Accept compliments graciously.
- Give compliments genuinely.
- Talk about what you are grateful for with family (bonus points for reflecting on gratitude out loud).
- Give a generous tip for outstanding service.
- Be present – get out of your head and practice gratitude by valuing the moment you’re living right now.
- Give a gift, send a gift, hand-make a gift.
- Bless your meals and give thanks for the food that nurtures your body.
- Write a positive public review.
- Say thank you, always.
- Pay it forward by giving out the kindness you received to someone else and pass on the gratitude
- Call your parents (remember, they gave you life).
- Fill out a compliment card.
- Send personalized thoughtful notes: congratulations/thinking of you/get well/birthday.
- Pick up the bill when you’re out with people you care about.
- Text someone a personal note of appreciation out of the blue.
- Honor the success of others as you do your own successes.
- Go the extra mile.
In order to really take hold of this concept of gratitude, I believe immersion is the key. Taking time to appreciate those moments of joy helps you to cherish your life and yourself.
Try creating a gratitude jar, here is how:
Gratitude Jar Ingredients:
- 1 jar/box
- Ribbon to decorate
- Paper for writing Gratitude Notes on
Step One: Notice
Begin noticing things in your life that you are grateful for, things that make you happy, things that bring you a feeling of peace. It can be something as small as the smell of the wet earth, or the fact that someone else emptied the dishwasher, or that your legs are strong enough to carry you up the stairs. It can be something as huge as the love you feel for your children. Big or small, whatever makes you feel gratitude, joy or happiness; bring that thing fully into your awareness.
Step Two: Pause
Once you’ve found that thing that makes you feel joy, peace or gratitude, pause for a second. The pause will anchor the feeling in your awareness.
Step Three: Breathe
Now that you have the feeling, stop whatever you are doing in that moment, hold that good thing in your attention and take ten slow, deep breaths.
While you breathe, continue to focus on the feeling, the experience, the thought, whatever it is. Focus on that feeling of the sun on your face and just breathe. Hold it with a sense of gratitude. Invite that feeling of joy into your life. Ask it to stick around.
Step Four: Practice
Repeat this process every day!
Now that you are armed with a few different ways to feel and express your gratitude and change your mindset, I challenge you to employ one or more of these. Involve your family and friends and expands the wonderful feelings of appreciation and joy. Take it a step further and share your experience in the comments below!
Kavata Kithome is an advocate for living your best life, full of health and longevity. While working closely with gym owners and personal trainers, she was able to sculpt a well-rounded view of fitness and understands how to incorporate it with a healthy balanced diet. She is a regular contributor to the One More Step Lifestyle brand.
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