There is conclusive proof from research conducted over the last few decades, that having an attitude of gratefulness increases our happiness. Further studies have shown, amongst many other benefits, the positive health benefits of living in a state of gratitude. People who practiced gratitude daily had lower blood pressure, went to the doctor less often, and there are some studies suggesting it could increase our lifespan.
Generosity and gratitude have a symbiotic relationship.
Generosity, which can also be characterised as being altruistic, is a virtue bestowed on someone unattached to material things. Gratitude suggests a state of plenty. Gratitude and generosity – when combined – influence each other on both a psychological and neurobiological level. Practicing both triggers the upward spiral of positive feelings that are present even with small acts of kindness.
Gratitude can be a natural antidepressant.
When we take the time to ask what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated. This produces an increase in dopamine and serotonin and cause a ‘pathway’ to the ‘feel-good’ centre of the brain — similar to the how many antidepressants work. Practicing gratitude, therefore, can be a way to naturally create the same effects of medications and create feelings of contentment.
Arthur C. Brooks helps explain how it works in his article Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier. One explanation is that acting happy – regardless of our feelings – nudges our brain into processing positive emotions. In a 1993 experiment, researchers asked people to smile forcibly for 20 seconds while tensing their facial muscles, forcing ‘crow’s feet’ around the outside of their eyes. The researchers found that this action stimulated brain activity associated with positive emotions.
1. Write it down – Try starting by writing the top 5 things you are most grateful for. Writing them down daily is vital to it becoming a lifelong habit.
2. Get into a routine – Commit to it for a week. Use a notepad, your phone or whatever you wish to keep record. Make a time for it each day – either in the morning or in the evening before bed. Start your journal with someone else – buddy-up and keep each other on track
3. Meditate – This needn’t be a ‘shoo-wah’ session, although if that’s how you replenish your soul, please continue. Praying, meditating, yoga, or however you take time out each day to be mindful, is a great time to consider all you should be grateful for
4. Repeat – It may sound obvious, but it bears reminding that science has also proven that actively repeating an action, deepens the neural ‘pathways’, further entrenching the habit.
It was Mandela Day on Wednesday 18 July, where folk around the world, and especially here in South Africa, dedicate to support a worthy cause, in an effort to make a difference in the lives of those that are less fortunate. The day has come to represent an opportunity for anyone to be generous. And that generosity promotes gratitude.
So, if grinning for an uncomfortably long time and looking like The Joker isn’t your idea of fun, try adopt an attitude of gratitude instead.
Happy Mandela Day!