What a year 2016 has been, not only for us personally, but for the world of politics and culture. This year we have said good-bye to some of the biggest names in pop culture, the chance of a female US president, and our place in the EU. Tough times, and that is without considering the atrocities that we know are happening around world right now.
In a topsy-turvy world such as this it can be easy to let things get on top of you and focus on the negative, getting caught up in the race to the top so much that we forget to enjoy what we already have and appreciate the things that money can’t buy.
So as 2017 approaches, we are re setting some intentions for the year ahead, one of the biggest being to practice and exercise gratitude for all that we do have – believing in the genuine healing power of a thankful attitude.
Now at first glance, that might sound trite. We have all heard the phrase, count your blessing, but in many circumstances that can seem impossible, if not completely pointless. However, there is a growing movement and respected scientific thought that puts weight on the power of gratitude and the benefits of being thankful.
We were brought up to count our blessings and always say thank you. Thank you for supper, thank you for my Christmas presents, thank you for looking after the dog, thank you for doing my dry cleaning. Our parents were BIG on manners and as such we have always said thank you at almost every human interaction. And we still do. But is this what we mean by gratitude? In this sense probably not.
The true benefits come from gratitude in a wider sense. Thankfulness in the face of adversity, and a true appreciation of the lives we lead, even when things get a little bit tricky.
There is a growing movement suggesting that practicing mindful gratitude can have a number of positive effects. From better mental health to lower blood pressure – taking time out to give thanks really does a body good.
As this article from professors at Berkeley University shows, practicing gratitude can lead to stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy, optimism, and happiness; acting with more generosity and compassion; and feeling less lonely and isolated.
In short, gratitude is a quick antidote to the blues. Which makes sense – in its most basic sense, being thankful prevents you from chalking up the losses, and instead forces you to look on the bright side. It isn’t rocket science.
Or is it? Over 30 year ago Martin Seligmanbegan a study in to positive psychology, looking for the first time at the human psyche from a position of positivity and gratitude, rather than through the lens of mental ill-health. Ongoing research at the University of Pennsylvania is testament to the power of positive emotions and the neuroplastic qualities of the human brain that reward gratitude with improved mental and physical health.
From gratitude journals that allow you to track one small thing a day that you are thankful for, to grateful meditation, giving your loved ones a complement daily, or even simply refusing to bitch about life and people – there are many ways to work a more thankful attitude in to your life.
It sounds a little too simple, but as we end this year of mixed blessings, we are putting renewed emphasis on being grateful – at its most self-interested level we want the benefits of giving thanks, but more than that, we feel it is vital we recognized what we have to be thankful for, rather than focusing on the things we do not have.