By: Dr. Andrew Baranski
I remember the first time I ever heard of this thing called a gratitude practice. What I interpreted initially was that if I show thankfulness for small things in life, that are readily taken for granted, I would magically begin observing all my dreams coming to life. This sounded woo-woo, but I have some lofty dreams and was willing to attempt this practice to achieve them.
I began practicing gratitude daily and though a Tesla Model X still has not appeared in my driveway, my life was forever changed. I began to observe myself feeling great and navigating through life with ease. I was better able to adapt to stresses and time seemed to slow down. I continued this practice that is highlighted at the bottom of this article daily.
After practicing gratitude daily for almost a year, I began my academic journey at Palmer College of Chiropractic. While at Palmer I received advanced education on the anatomy and physiology of the brain. I was then able to comprehend the research on gratitude and I understood why my gratitude practice had changed my life.
What is Gratitude?
There is not a concrete definition of gratitude, so the concept of gratitude can be easily misunderstood. Dr. Robert Emmons is the world leading researcher on gratitude and he has discovered that throughout history gratitude has been categorized as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, and coping response. The latin origins of the word gratitude all pertain to kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving or getting something for nothing.
This means that gratitude is dependent upon the perception of positive personal outcome that is not deserved or earned. According to Emmons, gratitude results from a two-step cognitive process: 1) recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome and 2) recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.
Ethical and religious scholars have reached a consensus that human beings are morally obligated to feel and express gratitude when receiving a benefit. This is also why gratitude is a central practice in Judaism, Christianty, Islam, Buddhism, Daosim, and Hinduism. This means that gratitude is a key component of the human experience.
How Gratitude Improves Health
- Grateful people have been shown to experience fewer aches and pains.
- People who practice gratitude are shown to buffer negative emotions. A 2009 paper in Counselling Psychology Review reported that gratitude can act “directly, as a causal agent of well-being; and indirectly, as a means of buffering against negative states and emotions.”
- Improved blood flow to areas of the brain associated with an optimal state of being.
- Decreased inflammation and improved heart rhythm; which is correlated to improved heart rate variability, a measure of vagus nerve function. Increased vagal tone is directly correlated to increased lifespan.
- Increased parasympathetic function which is shown to improve digestive issues.
- Increased levels of oxytocin which is a powerful bonding hormone involved in relationships that makes us feel good.
- Improved levels of deep restorative sleep.
How to begin a Gratitude Practice
The best way to begin a gratitude practice is by beginning each day with gratitude immediately upon awakening. In the morning your mind is fresh, and stresses from social media, news media, work, and email outlets have yet to stream in the mind. The moment a negative emotion crosses your mind the expression of gratitude is going to be less potent; therefore you must be disciplined and make this practice a routine.
This is my daily gratitude practice:
- Prior to bed I place my gratitude journal on the table so there is less for me to think about upon waking. The gratitude journal I am currently using is Ben Greenfield’s “Christian Gratitude Journal,” and a link to the journal will be provided soon. I have also used the “5 Minute Journal,” or you can simply utilize any notepad.
- Immediately upon waking I sit down and write 3 things I am grateful for. These things should not require much thought. Today my list included: the softness of my pillow, dinner conversations with my wife, and my feet for moving me through life. Just close your eyes, breathe, and write down the first 3 things that cross your mind.
- After completing my journal I immediately go into a 5-10 minute meditation to take advantage of my increased awareness,
- At dinner my wife and I share the things we were grateful for. This helps to vanish any negativity that was experienced during the day, and remind us of all that we have to be thankful for.
Resources to Assist Your Gratitude Practice
- Ben Greenfield’s Christian Gratitude Journal: https://getkion.com/shop/spirit/christian-gratitude-journal/?keyword=&matchtype=b&network=g&device=c&gclid=Cj0KCQjw0Mb3BRCaARIsAPSNGpV_9qdkN0eJjoN_0Z-3PEM37DZngxw7nR0fqeVQRLKMjRaT142CIHsaAkAzEALw_wcB
- The 5 Minute Journal: https://www.intelligentchange.com/collections/all/products/the-five-minute-journal?gclid=Cj0KCQjw0Mb3BRCaARIsAPSNGpW-IlaaICrG0-hb6_1kZ-3TbaHKq3N-zusA0RhoIGN26YtREmOr2tYaAlwLEALw_wcB
- “The Magic” by Rhonda Byrnes: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Secret-Rhonda-Byrne/dp/1451673442
- “Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity” by Dr. Emmons: https://www.amazon.com/Gratitude-Works-Creating-Emotional-Prosperity/dp/1118131290/ref=as_li_ss_tl?keywords=Gratitude+Works!:+A+21-Day+Program+for+Creating+Emotional+Prosperity,+Robert+Emmons&qid=1569743859&s=gateway&sr=8-1&linkCode=sl1&tag=bengree-20&linkId=88387a33397123baf91a571e2ac573f9&language=en_US
“7 Days to a Positive Attitude” by Blue Mountain Arts: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1598427040/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1