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Being Grateful: A Learned Skill

by | Feb 4, 2016

What if I told you that simply being grateful is a research-backed way to exercise better, sleep more restfully, boost your energy, explode optimism, get more done, and summon unicorn fairies?

I haven’t found a study confirming unicorns, but research has well-established the idea that being grateful can enhance many areas of life – work, relationships, mind, body, the whole nine. Brain imaging has been able to demonstrate real changes in the neural pathways that govern positive and negative feelings.

Hard to believe, but there are piles of studies that have shown dramatic improvements in overall well-being from a quick gratitude habit. How dramatic? When researchers assigned one group to record their gratitudes for the day, and another group to record their hassles for the day, they found that “participants in the grateful condition felt more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, energetic, attentive, excited, determined and strong than those in the hassle condition.”

Who wouldn’t want a boost in all of those areas?

If the scientists have convinced us that we should focus on being grateful, is it enough to decide to just be grateful?

Not exactly. If we’re not naturally in the top range of the thankfully-inclined, we’ll forget. And that’s why gratitude journaling is so popular these days. People grab a blank book and make it a point to sit down and write out their gratitudes every day.

Some people can do it, but I lasted four days.

On Day One, I wrote easy ones, the ones that end up on page one of most people’s gratitude journals.

I’m thankful for my husband.

I’m thankful for my kids.

I’m thankful for a home.

After a few days of Captain Obvious statements, I stopped. What I wrote felt too general to make a difference in my mindset. I knew I wanted to continue, so I wrote up prompts to get myself really thinking about the little things I should be grateful for.

Prompts were just what I needed to push through blank-page intimidation and broad sweeping statements. Having something there to get the ball rolling completely transformed the gratitude journaling exercise.

To maximize the benefit, I made sure prompts started broad and easy, but still made me look at things differently. Then, I narrowed to the little things – the things that would get me to notice and appreciate all the good around, and there’s plenty of it.

If you’re not in the gratitude habit already, I encourage you to try it! For me, there’s a noticeable difference in the way I look at everything. Instead of being bummed that I have to go to the doctor for annoying issue, my brain instead tells me that I’m so fortunate that I get to be treated for all issues, large and small. Instead of being annoyed that the dishwasher leaked, I found myself happy that we have a genius handyman who will get everything tip-top in no time.

I’m convinced. Want to see what being grateful does for you?

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