How do we stay centered in an environment that pulls us in a million different directions, often leaving us distracted and spent?
Busyness and the pursuit of things have robbed us of something crucial to our souls: the peace that comes from a sense of gratitude.
Gratitude keeps us balanced. In the reality of things we don’t have, gratitude allows us to be content in what we do have. Gratitude allows us to pause and find something good to fix our minds on in every situation, even in tragedy. It isn’t a false indifference to the hardships we all face in this life. It’s not a sugar-coated belief system. Gratitude is simply a choice we all have to be thankful, to remain humble in every circumstance, and to not give in to the negative energy that constantly surrounds us.
And gratitude is good for the soul.
A recent study by the University of California indicated that practicing gratitude not only leads to a better mood and sense of restfulness, but could also lead to a healthier heart.
“We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk,” said Paul J. Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, and author of the research study.
So how do we practice gratitude?
- Be intentional. Like most good habits, it won’t happen until you are intentional about practicing it. Set aside some time to write out a short list of why it’s important to you to practice gratitude. If you understand why you want to do it, then it will be easier to implement the daily steps that will create the habit. This article is a good place to start reading about the benefits of gratitude. Then stick with it. Don’t give up.
- Keep a journal. Write down what you are thankful for in each day. This doesn’t have to be a long list. Was there an amazing sunrise this morning? Did you get a complement at work? Did you hear a new song that moved you in a special way? Writing these things down will help you practice being present in the moment, and will give you something to return to and reflect on at the end of the day.
- Wake up grateful. Each morning as you wake, pick one thing that you wrote down on your list the day before. Spend some time thinking about how you felt in that moment, and what makes you the most grateful in that experience. Do this before even getting out of bed. It’s usually the moments we are most relaxed that our minds betray us with negative thoughts, often late at night and early in the morning. Take control during these times and feed your soul with positive energy that will help you start your day in the right frame of mind. When you wake up grateful, there is little room for anxiety, or frustration or fear. Fill your mind with gratitude and you will be satiated all day with humility and thanksgiving.
- Complement others. When we practice seeing the good things in other people, we are retraining ourselves how to see the world. We are changing our own paradigm. The world loves to criticize and often thrives on exploiting our failures. Be different. By consciously looking for the good in others, you are not only opening the way for richer relationships, but when you complement on those good things in an authentic way you are also building up another human being. You are calling attention to the best things within them and speaking life into those things. We all need encouragement, and remember that life isn’t about only helping ourselves. Its about sharing ourselves with others.
- Talk about it. When you express with your mouth what you are meditating on in your heart, you are reinforcing that belief. Your ears need to hear what you are speaking internally to your heart for it to really click. And by salting your speech with gratitude you are sharing that positive energy with others. But don’t be obnoxious. Most of us can see right through expressions of gratitude that aren’t genuine. Words are empty unless they are rooted in what is happening in the heart. Don’t go around telling everyone how blessed you are, because that’s just annoying. Be authentic and you will not only change your own rhythm of life but that of the people around you as well.
Practice gratitude daily and you will soon realize how powerful this really is. The first step to changing our lives (and the world around us) is to change our own perspective.