DO GRATITUDE PRACTICES WORK
It’s only natural that around Thanksgiving our minds are more focused on gratitude than at other times of the year. The notion of being grateful and trying to stay in a state of gratitude is often a question that comes up in my coaching practice in one way or another. And it isn’t unusual for clients to ask if I have a gratitude practice and to share my thoughts on whether they’re really helpful. So, I thought it would be an appropriate topic for this week’s blog post.
“Phycology Today” defines gratitude as, “an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has as opposed to…a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants or thinks they need.” For some, it’s even a form of prayer and according to some metaphysicians, instead of asking for what you want, it’s advised to imagine already having it and expressing thanks for it. I believe that the notion is that whatever it is that you want is already out there waiting for you to receive or claim it.
Also according to “Physiology Today,” studies show that by simply counting our blessings we can achieve better sleep patterns, lower our levels of anxiety and even depression because practicing gratitude increases our sense of well-being and overall health. Focusing on what we are grateful for feeds the brain’s reward system and improves mood and increases feelings of pleasure. Since feeling grateful can create the experience of more positive emotions and less negative ones, it can cause us to make healthier life choices including deploying better self-care
First, The Science
In a study at UCLA at Davis, participants were instructed to keep a journal. One group was assigned to journal about things they were grateful for, the second was to describe things that were irritating them, and the third was to track and record neutral events for ten weeks. The gratitude group reported feeling 25% better than the other two groups and found they also exercised considerably more. In a later study set up the same way, participants who completed daily gratitude exercises offered more emotional support to others than the participants in the other two groups.
My spiritual godmother, Blanch Colangeli used to always tell me, “You know, with all of this stuff, Lorraine, you just have to experiment. It’s either true or it’s not, it either works or it doesn’t, so…experiment.” Wise advice.
I first started practicing gratitude at a time of great stress when I was between homes, careers, starting a new job and just moved to a new part of the country. I was so stressed I found myself in constant states of fear and anxiety. Knowing the brain can’t think of two things at once, I decided, pretty much out of desperation, to focus on what I was grateful for. Some days it was no more than I had purchased the most comfortable bed I’d ever had and was sleeping through the night for the first time since I was a kid. Oprah Winfrey often says, “when you can think of nothing else to be grateful for, be grateful for breath. And I was…for that and my bed. I can attest to it turning my anxiety around. Sometimes just for a few moments at a time, then hours and then…longer.
A couple of years ago I happened upon a book by Bob Olson, called “The Magic Mala.” A delightful story based on his accidental discovery of and experience with Mala Beads. I was so enchanted with his story I ordered myself a set of Mala Beads. While I have never been one for what some refer to as religious idols and respected, but didn’t quite understand Rosary beads, I was charmed by the fact that the 108-bead Mala plus one extra bead, known as the “guru’ bead indicating the beginning and endpoint of the Mala- signified 1- the creator and higher truth 0- emptiness or space between our thoughts and breaths and 8-infinity, timelessness, and eternity. The idea is to begin by setting an intention for your Mala session such as what you wish to communicate to your higher power. It could be an outcome you wish for or something you’d like to attract. And you can say the same thing over and over for the full 108 beads if you want. I decided to use my Mala Beads to count my blessings each day…often twice a day, mornings and evenings.
When you make a conscious practice of gratitude, be it keeping a gratitude journal, or being conscious each day of the one thing you are most grateful for that day, or using Mala Beads like I do, you find yourself looking for things to be grateful for so you have them at the ready when you do your practice. This keeps you consciously looking for the good. After all, what we seek is usually what we find.
So yes, I have a gratitude practice and I find it makes a difference. I have my ups and downs as we all do, but the practice helps keep me aware of the fact that NOTHING lasts forever and keeps me mindful of many small miracles we can easily overlook in our fast-paced and frenetic world with so many constant distractions vying for our attention. My gratitude practice also gives me a broader perspective on life and is comforting.
Some Gratitude Practice Tips
(1) It’s the actual emotional state of gratitude that alters your physical state consequently, staying in a state of gratitude as long as possible is highly advised. So, in addition to thinking of what you are grateful for, focus on three reasons why you are grateful for it and how each one makes you feel. This prolongs a positive emotional state.
(2) Doing a gratitude practice in the morning can set up your day for more good (or at least the awareness of it) and doing it in the evening can contribute to sound sleep.
(3) I often suggest that my clients find one thing about their partner or spouse they are grateful for or appreciate in them that day then write it on a sticky note and leave it for them to find. This simple act of gratitude can work wonders in your relationship by keeping you both more focused on the positive aspects of each other.
(4) Get yourself a set of Mala Beads (Google Mala Beads) or any beads and count off your blessings as you’re going for a walk, in bed before going to sleep, or before you meditate. The beads didn’t improve my life. They helped me learn how to work with gratitude by serving as a tool and helping create a ritual for focusing on gratitude instead of woes.
(5) If you only have time to say one prayer of gratitude, make it the simple words THANK YOU.
Do Gratitude practices work, Experiment and let me know
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