Gratitude...not just for Thanksgiving
Updated: Oct 1, 2018
I woke up feeling like crap. I remembered an article on the importance of gratitude that I had read. Most of us think about gratitude on Thanksgiving, but practicing gratitude all year long can enhance our physical, emotional and social life.
The article was on the Greater Good Science Center's Website as part of University of California at Berkeley:
According to Robert Emmons’ research with over 1000-8 to 80 year-olds in his Gratitude Lab at the University of California at Davis, gratitude practices can enhance:
Stronger immune system
Less bothered by aches and pains
Lower blood pressure
Exercise more and take better care of physical health
Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
Higher levels of positive emotions
More alert, alive and awake
More joy and pleasure
More optimism and happiness
More helpful, generous, compassionate
Feel less lonely and isolated
They found these results with just ten weeks of writing a gratitude journal or list.
So, how does this work?
Emmons identifies four ways:
Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present
Gratitude blocks negative, toxic emotions
Grateful people are more stress resilient
Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth
I found a second article by the same author, on Gratitude called Pay It Forward: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/pay_it_forward where Emmons further describes his research.
I decided to give it a try…
My dog jumped on my lap and I turned on the Gratitude Petitation, something I had developed. What was it about Pippi, my beautiful Schipperke that made me so happy? Was it the way she licked my tears? Was it her beautiful fur and white teeth and the way she played so happily with her toys or when I used the game to feed her her dinner? Pippi was a service dog so she went almost everywhere with me and was extremely helpful when it came to coping with my anxiety and bipolar impulses.
As I thought about Pippi, feeling better, I felt my heart warm and my lips turned into a small smile.
Then I was guided to think about another being who was important to me. My mentor and meditation teacher who I had seen the day before came to mind.
She was always bright, smiley and supportive and taught me Buddhism in a way I could stomach. She also had the most gorgeous singing voice and I listened to her music when I drove the 90 miles to and from my therapists.
My funk was lifting. Next, the guided Petitation told me to acknowledge my own body, the parts that were working for me. My brain, legs, hands, and heart. Especially how my body helped me in my relationship with Pippi. Although I had body image issues, it was always important for me to think about how much my body contributed on a daily basis.
Next, the Petitation guided me to think about a pet I had lost. I recalled Hyjinx, and how grateful I was to have had time with him. Finally, I thought about Pippi again.
I was definitely feeling better, but I wanted to make sure it stuck. Sitting down at my computer, I opened my word processing program and began my gratitude list. First, were the people in my life I was grateful for…my mother who I talk to several times a day and who is working on this blog with me and my other books, my partner, friends, family, dedicated treatment team, the other people in my writing group—some of my best friends in my new city. Next, I wrote about the things that brought me happiness: my pets; the zoo; the wildlife sanctuary; good fresh Californian fruit, veggies and fish; my car; computers; apartment that even had a washer and dryer; and my gym with its water aerobics and spin classes. I tend to write specific things that happen with each person during the day to keep my gratitude practice fresh. For example, the way my friend bought me a coffee or the way my swimming teacher noticed my improvement.
I do a gratitude list every night as part of a mood log I do for one of my therapists. It’s always a nice way to end even the toughest days, and there are some of those. I also write a gratitude list to two friends most days. This is a good way to stay in touch and is helpful to all of us.
As you can see, I have an extensive gratitude practice. I believe in the research: gratitude practice can definitely change my mood and help me to prevent things from getting worse.