The Power of Gratitude

This blog was originally published at N.E.W. Motivation Coaching in November 2019. NMC has closed and blogs are now posted here. Blog follows…

Gratitude (noun): the quality or feeling of being grateful of thankful.

Gratitude is not a new concept; but it is one that has gone out of fashion over the years. Cue the Rockwell illustrations as I wander back to a time when kindness was our default and people were more appreciative of what they had and of others.

Image - woman looking out over mountain range with caption The Power of Gratitude

My first memory of being introduced to a gratitude practice was when I was in mental health counseling. Yes, as a patient.

I was going through the process of obtaining my second degree (yay nutrition!) at the ripe old age of 38 and realized the university offered no-charge counseling to students. I thought, hey, I could use a tune-up and some tools to work on some things in my life that I wish were better. It was life changing.

Let me tell you, therapy is not for the weak. It takes courage to admit to needing help and it takes commitment to put do the hard work and learn to use new tools and strategies. 

One of my therapist’s recommendations was to find three things every day for which I was grateful. Some days this came easily. Some days I could barely think of one thing, let alone three. But out of that first practice, came the idea that there was always something to be grateful for if I looked hard enough… if I chose to be grateful.

Image - Enjoy the Little Things

The next time gratitude came up for me in a big way was when I was in a health coaching program. Yes, as a client. I mean, really, how in the world could I tell all of you about the value of health coaches if I am not willing to seek the services for myself? I do not promote anything I do not believe in wholeheartedly. And yes, even coaches need coaches.

A big part of the coaching program I joined was a gratitude practice. Sessions started with expressing gratitude. In fact, gratitude took up about half of the coaching time. Sometimes it was easy to be grateful and express it. Other times, it was still difficult. But over the next year as I got in the habit of practicing gratitude at least weekly – if not more often – gratitude started to become a habit.

In difficult times, with job responsibility changes and lack of time and the state of overwhelm that I am always dancing with, gratitude has made the difference. When I get mired into the negativity, I tell myself to come up with five things I am grateful for.

Yes, I upped the ante from 3 to 5. And I can come up with the first 3 easily most times. The last 2 can be a struggle. But after I say it out loud – something changes.

That is the POWER of gratitude. It can turn the most horrible of days into one with a glimmer of hope, thanks, and love. It can keep you focused on the good things. And where your focus goes, energy flows!

Image - woman walking against yellow background with message: make up your mind and your body will follow

So, let’s talk about the research. That’s kinda my jam.

I’m going to quote an introduction to a study as the authors sum up what we know about gratitude briefly and thoroughly. They say, “Positive emotion has been associated with enhanced self-regulation and resilience as well as promoting self-motivation. In particular, expressing gratitude is known to promote positive mind-sets and reduce stress levels. Gratitude is an important component of mental healthiness throughout life, and it contributes to mental well-being. Gratitude has been associated with a lower risk for psychiatric disorders, higher life satisfaction, and wisdom.”

Oh, and they found heart rate went down significantly with gratitude (as compared to with resentment).

Image - Daises in shape of heart with caption saying Gratitude Enjoy the Little Things

More recently, Harvard Health published an article on “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” They summarize the impact of gratitude by saying, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” They also provide a list of ways to practice gratitude.

References: Definition of Gratitude:

Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Syeong S et al., 2017.

Harvard, Giving thanks can make you happier.

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