Welcome back to Snack Hacks. This series aims to bring a variety of physiological and phycological ideas, tips and tricks to holistically help build you from the inside out.
Today’s hack is looking at the virtue that is gratitude. Gratitude, (thank you Wikipedia), is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for, and to return kindness.
You can see the notion of gratitude throughout history, interwoven especially with religion. Practicing gratitude however can be completely secular and in this modern and hectic world, can play a big part in finding some peace and happiness.
Ok ok, I accept an element of cringe may of made its way into the above paragraph, but it appears research may just be backing up the power of gratitude.
This post will look at just some of the benefits that have been credited to a gratitude practice, and look to finish in showing you some simple ways to implement gratitude into your daily routine.
Research shows that our thoughts have the power to shape our brains. The more conscious we are about perceiving an experience as being positive the more this perception will generalize to other parts of the brain.
In 2007, Robert Emmons began researching gratitude to see its impact psychologically. He found that expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational well-being. Being grateful also impacts the overall experience of happiness, and these effects tend to be long-lasting.
The phycologist Rick Hanson adds to this, explaining that negative experiences are like Velcro and tend to stick in our minds, whereas positive experiences are like sticky tape and more readily slip away. We therefore must actively work to integrate positive experiences into the brain in order for the positive to ‘stick’ and the beneficial effects to remain.
Our memories are not set in stone. Experiencing gratitude in the present makes us more likely to remember positive memories,and actually transforms some of our neutral or even negative memories into positive ones. In one study, putting people into a grateful mood helped them find closure of upsetting open memories. During these experiences, participants were more likely to recall positive aspects of the memory than usual, and some of the negative and neutral aspects were transformed into positives.
The completing of a five-minute a day gratitude journal for example has been shown in another study to increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 % over a 6 month period. That’s the same impact as doubling your income!
Gratitude generates social capital, or rather networks of people in and around your community, work and social circles. In two studies with 243 total participants, those who were 10% more grateful than average had 17.5% more social capital.
Gratitude makes us nicer, more trusting, more social, and more appreciative. As a result, it helps us make more friends, deepen our existing relationships, and help better connect with partners.
Multiple studies have shown that gratitude induces pro-social behavior. Keeping a gratitude journal for example has been suggested through research to make you more likely to help others with their problems and makes you more likely to offer them emotional support.
Gratitude reduces feelings of envy, makes our memories happier, lets us experience good feelings, and helps us bounce back from stress.
Gratitude is strongly correlated with optimism. Optimism in turn can make us happier, improve our health, and has been shown to increase lifespan by as much as a few years.
Interestingly there is a correlation between gratitude and reducing materialism. Materialism is strongly correlated with reduced well-being and increased rates of mental disorder.
Now I for one am not shy to indulge in a little needless spending here and there. The problem with materialism however is that there is evidence to show it makes people feel less competent, reduces feelings of relatedness and gratitude, reduces their ability to appreciate and enjoy the good in life, generates negative emotions, and makes them more self-centered.
It stands to reason though that a gratitude practice can help levitate the pull of materialism as the focus is on what is already in place as opposed to the accumulating of more to bring happiness.
Healthy mind / healthy body
Gratitude has been seen to improve and increase sleep quality, reducing the time required to fall asleep, and increases sleep duration. It appears obvious, but nurturing your mind to thinking about a few things to be grateful for the day can induce the parasympathetic rest and digest response, therefore helping to unwind and get off to sleep.
Gratitude is a positive emotion and as such has been linked to better coping & management of terminal conditions like cancer and HIV, faster recovery from certain medical procedures, and positive changes in immune system functioning.
In fact, some recent science shows just that those who engage in gratitude practices have been shown to feel less pain, go to the doctor less often, have lower blood pressure, and be less likely to develop a mental disorder.
Ok, so we’ve explored (and only really scraped the surface) on why gratitude, or specifically a gratitude practice, can be so powerful to implement. So here are some tips to get you going.
Research shows that recording experiences for which you are grateful for only two consecutive weeks has lasting positive effects sustained for up to six months. In fact, the American Greetings Company launched a project in which they encouraged people to build their gratitude quotient by simply building a ThankList for those aspects of life that bring joy.
Keep your list simple to maybe one to two items per day maximum. The key however is to be specific as possible in your recording. You need to internalise every last feeling for that experience/person/gift/etc as you record it.
Another powerful way to build positivity is by practicing a gratitude meditation. This method helps to train the mind for greater positivity, gratitude and happiness. Practice this meditation for a few minutes at a time. The more you do this the more you create new neural pathways and alter existing ones as we train the brain to develop a more grateful outlook. This exercise taps into the brains ability to be malleable or rather it’s neuroplasticity.
Here is an example of a gratitude meditation that need only take two to five minutes to practice. I suggest you practice this once or twice daily to maximize the effects. You will come to enjoy this time and it can be woven into the busiest of schedules.
– Set your phone timer between 2-5 minutes.
– Get into a comfortable seated position.
– Relax with eyes closed and feel grounded seated in your chair.
– Take a few abdominal breaths, relaxing the mind and body.
– Think about “What am I really grateful for?”
– Take whatever comes to mind first and build on that thought.
– Expand upon the story of this positive experience or memory, bring to mind as much detail and specifics as you can
– Savor this experience and allow the feeling and thoughts to sink down and internalise into the body.
– Keep that experience in mind longer than usual to deeply embed positivity into the brain.
– If the timer is still going, start the process again with another memory or experience. You shouldn’t have more than three in the allocated five minutes.
Thank you once again for reading this entry in the snack hack series. As ever please give me a like, comment and share! Till next time.