For those who’ve read my last blog, I’ve already mapped out some ways to cultivate more opportunity for exercise through goal setting, and the undeniable benefits of doing so. So this next blog I’ve decided to dedicate to gratitude, something I’ve found to be a significant component in helping to achieve sustainable, connected and meaningful life goals.
The dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; the state of being grateful, or the readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.” As it turns out, gratitude can be considered to be more than just a feeling and it has the potential to have a profound impact on several different aspects of a person’s well-being, including mind, body and
spirit. So, in case you’re wondering what to add to your resolution list for the new year and perhaps the decade ahead, besides more exercise of course, here are some reasons why adding an attitude of gratitude to the top of your list can be considered highly beneficial.
1. Effect on brain chemistry: Expressing gratitude and receiving the same, signals our brain to release dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good emotionally. Our mood can be enhanced immediately by even thinking about the good or positive things in our life, and by consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help strengthen the neural pathways and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves. It creates a cycle in which the feeling you get from your recognition of good things, makes you want to think of
more good things to focus on. To use exercise as an example, try reminding yourself how much more energy you feel since fitting regular exercise into your daily routine. The brain is continuing to pump dopamine —contributing to our warm good feelings and brightening our day — all day long instead of just when exercising.
2. Effect on biological systems: Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at University of California-Davis, author of The Little Book of Gratitude (Gaia, 2016), and a researcher who has spent decades studying the effects of gratitude reports that “clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure and improve immune function…” (3)
3. Effect on exercise goals: According to Emmons, clinical trials also indicate that, “… grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence.” (3) Exercising an attitude of gratitude for even small milestones of fitness function, and focusing on what your body has done and can do vs on what it cannot yet do can go a long way toward assisting in the maintenance of your long term fitness goals.
4. Effect on mental health: By reducing the stress hormone cortisol and managing the autonomic nervous system functions, gratitude can assist in significantly reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. At the neurochemical level, feelings of gratitude are associated with an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, the brain site responsible for managing negative emotions like guilt, shame, and violence. Of course, seeking professional advice from your family physician and/or a licensed clinical psychologist should be first and foremost on your agenda if you are at all concerned with the state of your mental health, however, either will then be able to offer you further guidance as to whether including a gratitude strategy into your management plan could be right for you.
5. The price: Gratitude is a simple, cheap, easy, and pleasant intervention to execute, and it is rarely contraindicated for any population. In fact, it may cost more not to try than to try, as the benefits appear to far outweigh the risks.
Beyond attitude to action: Several ways to cultivate the practice of gratitude into your life are:
Gratitude journaling- Right before bed, write down the daily top 5 of what brought joy to your day, and once a week shift that list to how you brought joy to someone else’s life throughout that week.
Consistent blessings/gifts/talents list- It’s always easy to take for granted things that come easily to us. Perhaps even basic things that others struggle to obtain or that may never be in their scope of vision.
Thanksgiving list- No one has gotten to where they are without the help of others. Making a list of people who’ve shaped your life in a positive way, and when possible letting them know, will not only make their day but yours.
Perspective shifting- Turn your mind set around and find the gift in the challenge or chore. For example, tired of picking up after everyone in your house? How about being thankful for either: a) getting in some extra squats while doing it without having to go to the gym (well, maybe that’s a stretch), or b) for having someone to share life with to pick up after (more of a stretch?), okay then perhaps c) simply for having a house to live in. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There is always something to be grateful for.
The top 5 things I am most grateful for at this moment:
1. My Faith: it’s been my constant and anchor in an ever changing world with as ever changing self, amongst ever changing others.
2. My Family/Friends: they’ve been my rock and support even when I’m not at my best; and I’ve classed them together because I feel friends really are the family you choose for yourself or in some cases who have chosen you, when you’re really lucky.
3. My Health: I appreciate all aspects of my spiritual, physical and mental health, which I’ve learned can’t be separated, or at least not sustainably so for an extended period of time, and I recognize my responsibility in taking a consistently active role in managing it
4. My Purpose: having the opportunity to contribute to a worthy cause through my professional work amongst a team of colleagues that I highly admire and respect, and through my community volunteering is a gift. Each new day is a chance to learn and to grow while at the same time assisting others to achieve their goals.
5. My Challenges/Struggles: of course I’d be lying if I said I had any desire to revisit the struggles or challenges I’ve been through over the past decade, or repeat any of the mistakes I’ve made throughout my life, however, I am content with how these experiences have shaped me. I can look back at them now as another opportunity to learn and to grow in patience, humility and compassion, in a direction of non-judgement and connectedness toward self and others.
May our 2020 VISION be focused on gratitude, and may we continue to help in building each other up in that direction.
~ Elizabeth, PT
1. L.F.Cunha, L. C. Pellanda, and C. T. Reppoid (2019) Positive Psychology and Gratitude
Interventions; A Randomized Clinical Trial; Front Psychol, 10:584