What's your New Year's resolution? To be happier? Healthier? More successful? Improve your relationships?
No matter what your goal, there is one thing you can do to improve the likelihood of succeeding.
Begin with gratitude
Research has repeatedly confirmed that acts of gratitude, such as counting your blessings, showing appreciation and helping others, can result in more happiness and better health. In one study, participants who kept a weekly gratitude journal were more optimistic and healthier after 10 weeks than a comparison group that recorded things that irritated or displeased them.
It also turns out that a grateful heart is a healthy heart. In another study, a group of people with heart disease were asked about their feelings of gratitude. Those who felt more gratitude were less depressed, slept better and had more energy. And after keeping a gratitude journal for 40 days, the participants also showed reduced inflammation (a key risk factor in heart disease) and improved heart rhythms.
Because gratitude can reduce feelings of stress, it also could improve resistance to cancer and increase immunity.
But the benefits of gratitude multiply when it becomes more than just a feeling. People who take the time to show gratitude with words and actions can spread the positive effects to others.
Finding the path to gratitude, however, isn't always easy. Sometimes we are locked into habitual patterns that cause us to dwell on the negative and overlook all the good things in our lives.
Start your new year with gratitude by taking these four approaches:
Pause and think about what you're grateful for. It might be as basic as food on the table and a roof over your head. It might be the past hour, day, or week that's been peaceful and trouble free. It might be the friends and family who love you. Don't overlook the mundane and the obvious. Feel gratitude for all that is right in your world.
Now write it down. Nothing is too big or too small. And nothing can be repeated too often. Taking a moment to remember and record your blessings actively reminds you of their importance. Try to do this daily so that you begin each day with a feeling of gratitude.
Don't keep all that gratitude goodness to yourself. Feeling grateful for your friends and family? Tell them. It doesn't have to be a big deal. A simple "Thanks for all the love and support. I really appreciate it," works fine. Discover how good it feels to say thank you out loud for gifts or favors, or tell co-workers and service people how much you appreciate their hard work.
Act on it
Maybe the biggest benefits of gratitude occur when you pass it on. People who donate time and money, regularly do good deeds for others, and make gratitude a habit as well as a feeling, not only boost their good feelings but make the world a better place for everyone else too.
Finally, moods are fleeting. When we get stuck in a rut or start listening to that inner voice in our head that isn't being supportive, it is easy to fall victim to catastrophizing about the world around us. There are five primary emotions that humans experience: anger, fear, worry, grief and joy. Four of them are negative emotions. Focusing on the gratitude in your life helps re-wire your brain against negativity.
By working with gratitude you become able to process emotions and experiences with a different perspective. You establish a neural pathway to happiness. You begin to unconsciously react differently to situations that previously baffled you. You are able to see changes in yourself that are then in return reflected in the world around you.
Gratitude is one aspect of thinking that also helps individuals practice mindfulness. Mindfulness can be defined as "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations." The next time you are feeling out of control or disturbed, stop, breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth and begin adding to your gratitude list.
If you struggle coming up with something to put on your list, I will provide one free of charge. Your first item can be that you caught yourself and realized something didn't feel right.
That is the greatest gift you can give yourself and a great start to your own gratitude list!