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  • Donna Richardson, CEC, ACC

The power of choosing gratitude


Earlier this year, we learned my son-in-law would need a liver transplant to save his life. The news was devastating for him and our daughter, parents of an infant and a toddler, and for the rest of the family.


This week, our son-in-law received the gift of life—a healthy liver—from a living donor.


Today, it’s easy for me to choose gratitude.


One of the simplest practices for cultivating a habit of feeling gratitude is to keep a “gratitude journal.” It’s easy; simply write down daily three good things that happened and for which you are grateful.


Today, my entry might look like this:

  1. I am grateful for the selfless and courageous donor who offered 70% of his liver and changed the trajectory of my son-in-law’s life—and that of his wife and children.

  2. I am grateful for access to our health-care system, and all the health professionals who are supporting my son-in-law through his surgery and recovery.

  3. I am grateful for the love, support and encouragement given to all of us by so many family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

There are days when feeling gratitude may not come easily for you and me.


For instance, when life throws curve balls, or when we’re experiencing a sense of overwhelm or burnout, feeling gratitude may seem out of reach. And, yet, this is exactly when a well-developed habit of feeling and expressing gratitude can serve us well.


The power of choosing gratitude


Researchers have studied the powerful effects of gratitude on our brains. People are known to feel happier and be better able to connect to positive emotions, such as optimism. Interestingly, when we express or receive gratitude, dopamine—the brain’s pleasure chemical—is released in the brain and we feel good. The more we think positive, grateful thoughts, the healthier and happier we feel.


There are many other health and well-being benefits of a gratitude practice according to researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley, including:

  • Increased happiness and positive mood

  • More satisfaction with life

  • Lower incidence of experiencing burnout

  • Better physical health

  • Better sleep

  • Less fatigue

  • Lower levels of cellular inflammation

  • Greater resiliency

  • Strengthened relationships

5 ways to realize these benefits


How can you cultivate a habit of gratitude and also enjoy the health benefits? There are dozens of ways to do so and many of them are easy to try.

  1. Start with something simple – think about someone you are grateful for.

  2. Write thank you notes – try expressing your gratitude by writing one. handwritten note once a week for a month.

  3. Keep a gratitude journal – once each day, write down three positive things that happened and what you are grateful about.

  4. Pray – if you are spiritual or a person of faith, express what you are grateful for through prayer.

  5. Say thank you – practice saying “thank you” to others in meaningful and descriptive ways. Rather than saying, “Thanks,” try saying, “Thank you for checking in with me when I wasn’t feeling well"

Is gratitude a choice?


The researchers at the University of California-Berkeley have found that it is, and when we make the choice to be grateful, we are “relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.”


World Gratitude Day


Incidentally, September 21 is World Gratitude Day, reminding us of the importance of expressing gestures of thanks and appreciation. What a perfect day to try out a new gratitude practice.


Who is in your life that you might consider expressing gratitude for? And how might that make a difference to each of you?


 

Related links:


The Science of Gratitude

How gratitude can help you through hard times

What is gratitude and why is it so important

14 benefits of practicing gratitude