Why Gratitude Is So Important

Thanksgiving is a holiday built around–you guessed it–being thankful. It’s about taking a break from our busy lives and sharing a meal with the people we care most about, and appreciating the gift that is their presence in our lives. It’s only during the holiday season that I realize how stressed out and pessimistic I’ve been about the many qualms I have about the current state of my life. It’s times like these that I try to slow myself down and think about the positive aspects of my life, and how those parts usually outweigh the negatives. I’ve found that sticking to the following guidelines have helped me to be more grateful for the things that I have, while also putting negative situations into perspective.

 

 

1. Surround yourself with positive influences.

We tend to adopt the mannerisms and general dispositions of the people we choose to spend our time with. Make time for the people you care about, who lift you up and make you feel more energized. A 2011 article published in the Oxford Handbook of Stress, Health, and Coping found that friendship is directly correlated to improving your sense of happiness over time. So go tell your friends and loved ones how happy they make you.

 

2. Cut out the thoughts that make you wish you had something better.

When you fill your mind with the desire for something better, you fail to appreciate what you already have in front of you. We live in an age where we are enveloped by images of impossibly beautiful and wealthy people on our social media feeds. As much as we may try to resist, these things do get to us, and we tend to want more than what we already have. Try taking a step back and looking at all the positive things that have happened in your life and throughout your day. Being mindful and aware of the privileges we have–that others don’t have–can really put things into perspective.

        

I do want to comment that we shouldn’t always discount our negative emotions just because someone else out there may have it worse than ourselves. The point I want to make is that there usually is a silver lining, and keeping a positive outlook really does make things a little better sometimes.

 

 

3. Start your day on a positive note.

During finals week of spring semester of my Sophomore year, I remember feeling utterly exhausted and distraught the night before my Chemistry final. But I remember looking up at the whiteboard of the study room I was in, and reading a quote left by whoever had been there before me:

“Begin every day by sending all of your love into the world, and spend the day looking for all the ways the world gives it back.”

I’ve never particularly been a fan of living by motivational quotes, but these words have stuck with me for a long time and reminded me that what I put into the world really is what I get back.

 

Why do I care, you ask? Well, practicing gratitude is proven to have positive effects on our mental and physical health. Researchers have found that the same regions of the brain that are activated when we experience pleasure from socializing are also stimulated when we feel gratitude for our loved ones. Our brains tend to focus on the negative aspects of every situation, because we are evolutionarily hard-wired to learn from our negative experiences so as to avoid repeating our mistakes. While helpful in our decision-making processes, this tendency to focus on the negative usually results in higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies. In healthy amounts, cortisol boosts your energy levels and helps to regulate your sleep cycle. However, prolonged spikes in cortisol production puts excessive stress on your body and negatively affects your immune system, mood, and overall health. As I mentioned before, practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven yet underestimated way to reduce your stress levels and remind yourself about the more important things. So, next time you feel frustrated about your lot in life, try thinking about something–or someone–that you’re grateful for.  

 

Sources:

https://www.mindful.org/what-the-brain-reveals-about-gratitude/

https://www.birchbox.com/magazine/article/6-scientific-reasons-why-your-friends-really-do-make-you-happier

http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/wp-content/themes/sonjalyubomirsky/papers/L2011.pdf