After recently returning from my trip to Guatemala, where I visited beautiful rural areas on Lake Atitlan, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness. Happiness from visiting such a welcoming country with friendly and loving people. Gratitude for being where I am today and having the opportunity and means to travel and see as much as I have. Many of the indigenous people living on Lake Atitlan don’t have much in life. They may not have an education, much money, or food to feed themselves and their children, or real homes to sleep in and protect them from the cold or rain, but they laugh, have families, and communities to support one another. The timing of my trip coincidentally fell before Thanksgiving. As I reflected about my my trip over the holiday it gave me time to think about all the things in my life I’m grateful for. Gratitude is such an important part of life. It’s humbling, reflective, and provides a sense of peace and calmness.
Life can be overwhelming at times, and it’s so easy to take little things for granted, like having a warm bed to sleep in, and food on your table. It sounds cliche, I know, but without these kind of thoughts and without realizing how much we have, its easy to create a little bubble where only your small petty problems matter. This way of thinking unravels into selfishness and sadness most of the time. Not being able to see outside the walls that you have caged yourself in will only allow you to see the insignificant things compared to the big picture of life.
One way that I like to incorporate gratitude into my everyday life is keeping a gratitude journal. This not only allows me to have “me time” but it also allows me to reflect on my life and put things that may be stressing me into perspective. Okay, I know I have to work on a new project and do a number of meticulous tasks, then go to work at night, and run errands in between, but I also have so much to be grateful for at the same time. Like being able to have such opportunities and work for myself. You see, instead of feeling bad for yourself you can change your attitude to having a more positive outlook.
Living with gratitude has a multitude of health benefits. In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. Also, those who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.*
Gratitude is also linked to sleeping better.* Researchers have also done studies and found that writing 15 minutes before bedtime about what you are grateful for, will allow you to fall asleep more easily and sleep for longer.
How else can you incorporate gratitude into your life? You can thank your friends and express how much you appreciate what they’ve done for you. Wouldn’t you like to know if you affected someone in a positive way? I know I would, and your compliments and positivity will spread. It will make your friend more happy and you will feel better for just doing that.
Another way is remembering the good times. Look back on experiences, people you’ve met, you’re childhood, and anything that will help reconnect you to where you have been, what you learned and whom you have loved along the way. I always find myself reflecting on my childhood, when I had no worries about paying rent, and ran around knocking on my friends houses to see who could play outside with me. Remembering allows me to never forget and to forever be grateful about my past and upbringing because it has molded who I am today.
Place gratitude reminders around your room, house, office, anywhere you will see these notes throughout the day. Use visual cues that elicit feelings of gratitude and happiness. Putting them in different places where you will see them throughout the day and constantly be reminded of these good warm feelings will help support your feelings of gratitude.*
Gratitude’s value is intrinsic, but it also has many health benefits. Those who take time to be grateful may enjoy improved sleep, lower stress levels, enhanced overall well-being and even improved heart health. Practicing gratitude has also been linked with stronger personal relationships, higher self-esteem and greater life satisfaction.*
As the holidays are approaching I think we should remember to be thankful for what we have and give to others more than wanting so much for ourselves. Whether it be giving toys, a hot dinner, or just some advice, it all is meaningful and appreciated, and whoever receives your gifts will be filled with gratitude.