We’re beginning to recognize both how and why gratitude has such profound effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. Not only does being grateful make sense on a gut level, the practice also makes use of hard-wired connections in our mind and body, activating fundamental neurochemical pathways shown to be connected to improve moods. Read on to discover how you can tap into these pathways using simple and meaningful gratitude exercises.
Gratitude: The Virtuous Cycle
One way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal, which researchers have found can drastically improve a person’s level of optimism, and consequently, their wellbeing. Those who wrote down what they were grateful for demonstrated a more optimistic outlook, an improvement in exercise routine, and a decrease in physical aches and pains compared to those who didn’t keep a journal.
PRO TIP: If you’re going to use a gratitude journal studies show that weekly (or even bi-weekly) entries are more helpful than daily ones. Also, go for quality rather than quantity: logging fewer, more meaningful events has shown a greater benefit to positive thinking than an equal or longer list of superficial thanks.
Redirecting Attention on the Good
If you purposely give your brain something positive to focus on, it will do just that, leaving less room for pessimistic thoughts. By routinely focusing attention on what you’re already grateful for, you can help establish a thought pattern that kick starts our old friend, the virtuous cycle. Here are a few ways you can incorporate gratitude exercises into your daily or weekly routines, helping them to become second nature.
- Rise and Shine: If it takes a bit of added effort to get up in the morning and off to work, instead of hitting the snooze button (…again), try a quick, energizing gratitude exercise. Think of one person you’re looking forward to seeing or communicating with that day, and why you’re thankful for them.
- Loving the Little Things: For a simple gratitude exercise, focus on little things that we might take for granted. The clean, safe drinking water from the tap for your morning coffee. Coffee. The refrigerator chilling your lunch. Your lunch. When you stop to think about it, these are all tiny miracles adding up to a grateful day.