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For those of us who celebrated the holidays, we may have spent time with family and friends focusing on what are the important things in our lives. Thinking of the things you are grateful for has benefits not only to your mental health, but your physical health as well. It is possible to continue those warm, fuzzy feelings into the new year by practicing mindful gratitude.

Gratitude should be on your mind. Feelings of gratitude release both dopamine and serotonin in our brain. This promotes more positive emotions and can improve our mood. What is important about the release of dopamine is that it makes us feel good. In turn, our brain will crave more of it, making thoughts of gratefulness easier to put into practice.

Gratitude is an emotion, and a healthy one when used correctly. Keeping sarcasm out of the equation, the feeling of gratitude can help to replace negative emotions such as resentment or regret. Gratitude lowers your risk of depression and feelings of hopelessness, making it a great tool to combat the winter blues.

Gratitude helps your body. Stress has been identified as a factor in many health issues, and gratitude has been shown to help! A study by UC Davis Health in 2015 found that individuals who practiced gratitude had:

  • 16% lower diastolic bp and 10% systolic bp.
  • 23% lower levels of stress hormones
  • 25% lower levels of dietary fat
  • 20% less fatigue in heart failure patients
  • 9-13% lower levels of Hemoglobin A1c
  • 10% improvement in sleep quality

Gratitude can be simple. You may not have won the lottery today, but you may have been fortunate enough to have watched a hummingbird outside your window. Or maybe you were able to leave for work on time and beat all the traffic? The more you practice paying attention to the positive things in your life, the easier it will become.

How can you get into the habit of being grateful? Try to incorporate one or more of these techniques into your day for at least 15 minuets.

Person writing in a journal.
  • Write in a gratitude journal either what you are excited for in the morning, or grateful for happening in the evening. This helps us to focus on what’s important.
  • Give sincere complements to others around you. This not only helps you, but can brighten someone else’s day
  • Be grateful during an activity. Focus on the enjoyment you get from participating. If you are doing something outside, this is a great way to enjoy nature.
  • Create a Grateful Board. Similar to a vision board, this activity has you thinking about the great things that already exist in your life and what you are excited for in your future.
  • Prayer and meditation are another way to quite your mind and reflect.
  • Pay it forward by volunteering for causes that matter to you.
  •  Write thank-you cards or thinking-of-you cards. What is great about this practice is that you don’t have to send them if you don’t want to, but focusing on that person in your life will help you feel better about that relationship.

Using gratitude, you can choose to be happy.  Find what technique would work best for you, and plan how you can incorporate it into your schedule.

Author: Casey Bishop, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, MACP, OSU Extension Paulding County

Reviewer : Susan Zies, Assistant Professor, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Wood County

Resources:

Ryan, R., Patel, S. (May, 2018). Gratitude strategies to feel better fast. Emotional Fitness: Timps and Skills for Mental Health. https://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2018/05/31/gratitude-exercises-to-feel-better-fast/

Singh, Maanvi. (December, 2018). If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down. It’s Good For Your Health. NPR, Shots. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/12/24/678232331/if-you-feel-thankful-write-it-down-its-good-for-your-health

UC Davis Medical Center. (November, 2015). Gratitude is good medicine. UC Davis Medical Center; Medical Center. https://health.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html

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