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Giving Thanks at the Holidays

Posted by David A. Couper, MA on December 24, 2015 7:30 AM

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One of my clients recently asked these two important questions:

How can Gratitude improve my life in real and noticeable ways?  What is the value of keeping a gratitude log or journal? 

Gratitude is a positive emotion of feeling thankful or grateful. I’ve read several articles about gratitude by psychologists Drs. Blair and Rita Justice, and how it influences our overall well-being. In one of their columns they explain that gratitude “is felt in the same frontal regions of the brain that are activated by awe, wonder and transcendence. From these cortical and limbic structures come dopamine and serotonin, the chemicals for feeling good inside.” Gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin into our bodies and makes us feel good. 

By the way, common antidepressants serve a similar function by artificially boosting serotonin levels to alleviate depression. It's good to know that we can also boost these chemicals ourselves by feeling grateful! Appreciation has also been shown to make electromagnetic heart patterns more coherent (integrated) and ordered.

The Justices cite research done by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, who are researchers in the field of gratitude. In one experimental comparison, people who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Dr. Emmons is the author of several books including, “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” which is available on Amazon.

Dr. Emmons suggests that people who regularly practice grateful thinking can increase their “set-point” for happiness by as much as 25 percent, challenging the previously held notion that our “set-point” is frozen at birth.

The point I’m making with all of this is – Gratitude may indeed improve our lives in real and noticeable ways, directly benefiting us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. So, why not consider making it a practice, which is as easy as choosing thoughts of appreciation and gratitude – regularly and consistently.

Start with a Gratitude Journal

To support you in creating a new and higher happiness set point, I suggest you start a gratitude journal, in which you write down what you are grateful for – once or twice per week. 

Robert Emmons shares these six research-based tips for reaping the greatest psychological rewards from your gratitude journal:

  1. Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling.
  1. Don't just go through the motions. Set your intention to be happier. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. 
  1. Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  1. Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  1. Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
  1. Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

Great Holiday Gift Idea – Gratitude!

I’m inviting all of us to make GRATITUDE our most important gift of the holidays! So, in addition to starting your gratitude journal and writing down for whom and what you are truly grateful – ALSO consider giving others the gift of your gratitude! 

Let other people in your life know how much you appreciate them, how you are grateful to them, how much you care about or love them. Compliment others, positively acknowledge them – in person, through email or holiday greeting cards – and even in your meditations or prayers. Stretch a little outside of your comfort zone, and say thank you to more people and in more ways than you have in the past.

As my holiday gift of gratitude, I close with these inspiring quotes on being grateful. Feel free to share these gifts with others!

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” – Aesop

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” – Jacques Maritain

“At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I've never emerged.” – Patch Adams

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.” – Kristin Armstrong

“Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day

“When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.” — Anthony Robbins

With Grateful Holiday Wishes,
Maddisen

Written by Maddisen K. Krown, MA, Personal and Executive Coach, Holoenergetics© Counselor / 
The Huffington Post

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