The Science Behind Gratitude

Gratitude. 

It’s all the rage these days. 

It’s powerful that’s true…and it’s everywhere on self-help blogs.

To be honest – sometimes I get sick of seeing the word “gratitude” in list posts on self-growth sites.

You know…advice like “just be grateful for what you have.”

It seems to lose juice when it’s overdone as a tool in every post on “how to love yourself more” or “overcoming your fear of failure”.

Too much of a good thing, is a bad thing….sort of thing.  Know what I mean?

But uh oh, here I am writing about gratitude specifically!

That must make me a hypocrite.  Well…yes…and no.

You see, I’m a how and why kind of guy.

As a lover of personal development and as a transformational coach, I’m really into the practical and applicable.

Things that get tangible results.

If I don’t help my clients to get real, tangible results, why would they even come to me?

I love science and always will; it’s shown us so much about the universe we live in, our biology and how we work as human beings that we couldn’t previously see.

When science and self-growth meet, I get very ecstatic. 

Science itself is a self-growth system, that is constantly evolving and it strongly supports gratitude as a tool for a better life.

Science helps us to understand and make things repeatable, and it’s done that with gratitude practice.

Yes!

So…what is Gratitude, exactly?

If you don’t know by now, gratitude is simply the art of saying a deep thank you to life for what you have.

Further, it’s actually appreciating it on a meaningful, emotional level, that you can really feel throughout your body and being.

Now, maybe you’re wondering…do I practice gratitude?   Absolutely I do.

But it’s not because other people tell me to do it.  I’ve got to know why I should practice gratitude.

Why Gratitude & Appreciation Works

As a near cousin of joy and compassion, gratitude is scientifically shown to benefit folks that can enter it to it almost immediately.

Psychological studies have shown that those who keep a gratitude journal, writing in it only once a week, are happier than those who don’t.

Just once a week. Efficient, proven, practical….and effective.

Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

Much like with mindfulness and compassion practice, gratitude and appreciation have many of the same benefits like:   

1.       Your brain becomes more synchronized and higher functioning, thinking becomes more flexible

2.       Your heart beat becomes more harmonized, thus relaxing you

3.       All kinds of good chemicals are released into your body to create more biological harmony

4.       You are training yourself to become more resilient over the long haul

(Source: Huffington Post – Understanding Gratitude)

Gratitude and Its Cousins

You don’t even need to write anything down to do your gratitude practice.

In fact, sometimes when I write gratitude statements down it just makes me all heady, and I can’t get into the feeling.  At times I’ll feel like I’m making a shopping list.

Then I might feel like I’m doing all those positive affirmations again like I used to do – yuck!

I see the practices of mindfulness, gratitude and compassion are certainly cousins, slightly different tools to achieve many of the same benefits, but also all are like unique flavors of ice cream.

They can have different applications as tools, but also you might have a preference on what you want to practice in a given moment, like having a different flavor of ice cream.

Here are some examples of them at work:

When I’m practicing Tai Chi, I find that it’s mandatory that I practice mindfulness.  But if I practice gratitude or compassion, I’ll lose focus on doing the Tai Chi  mindfully.

They’re not necessary and will get in the way of working on internal coordination of my body structure.

When I’m judging someone harshly or mad at them, then maybe opening my heart up and doing a little on-the-spot compassion practice would be most appropriate for letting go.

Or maybe just mindfully noticing.

I’ll usually try both to see which lightness me up and give me a fresher perspective, or deeper acknowledgment of what I’m resisting.

When I’m complaining in my head that “I’m not successful yet” that may be a great time to take a minute or two for some gratitude contemplation.

Maybe I’ll throw a little self-compassion in there, and then ahhhhh.  An internal spa experience ensues.

Sometimes none of these work, and I’ve got to go simply ride the roller coaster.

But regardless of the effects of gratitude, compassion or mindfulness, it’s not about the result, but about continuing the practice even when we don’t feel like it.

That’s where it can get hard.

What experience do you have with these scientifically-backed processes, especially gratitude?

Now back to finish up with gratitude.

Taking just a minute to be Appreciative

So we know that science shows the benefits of some kind of regular gratitude practice.  Many of you have also experienced this.

This post is a reminder to start up again if you’ve stopped doing it, and especially if you aren’t feeling all that great these days.

Remember, taking just one minute to contemplate in gratitude can have immediately gratifying and calming effects on your mind, body and soul.

Here are some things I’ve been grateful for in the past couple of days, taking time to do a little gratitude contemplation.

My father
My two cats
The return of my mojo (Yes, I said it, been off the dating scene for a while, now it’s back on!)
My passion for self-growth, running this blog
The support of my family and friends
The joy of coaching my clients
Tai Chi school and practice

Here’s yet another post on how to develop an attitude of gratitude from my perspective.

Developing a regular practice and attitude of gratitude – it’s not rocket science, though science is firmly behind it.

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