Gratitude and Spiritual Wellness
Gratitude is often taken for granted in everyday life, and especially in the journey toward spiritual growth and wellness. It is easy to forget to find reasons for gratitude when the daily grind and everyday hustle-and-bustle fills the mind with annoyances and overstimulation. It can often feel much easier to focus on the negative aspects of life that seem to be constantly nagging than recognize the quiet and constant blessings that can be found no matter what the circumstance may be.
It’s no coincidence that when many decide to embark on a journey of spiritual wellness and enlightenment, they feel the need to leave behind their demanding jobs and plethora of material possessions and find comfort and gratitude in the simple, quiet joys of the natural world and their own minds. But don’t worry, you don’t need to quit your job and join a monastery in Tibet in order to improve your spiritual wellness and enlightenment. Awakening a deeper sense of spiritual awareness can be as simple as learning to practice gratitude.
Don’t know how to start practicing gratitude? Not a problem. Keep reading to learn how gratitude can be your key to unlocking your full spiritual—and mental—capabilities and how you can start practicing gratitude today.
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a powerful tool in fostering mental and spiritual health in truly meaningful ways. When you make gratitude a part of your everyday experience, you are shifting your focus away from the negative to the positive. For some, this may sound too simplistic to have any meaningful impact; however, this mental and emotional shift from the negative to the positive has very real and powerful effects on nearly every aspect of being.
An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Happiness | Participant
Developing an attitude of gratitude grants a deeper sense of appreciation and recognition for the good around you—no matter how small. Gratitude fosters a positive mindset, and recognizing these positive aspects of life will give you a greater sense of purpose and understanding. Instead of always being preoccupied with things that make you feel upset or weighed down, learning to find gratitude in the positive things around you will help your heavy burdens feel lighter and worth solving.
Gratitude also helps you feel more connected to others and the world around you as you are reminded of the people and things that bring you joy and comfort. Gratitude inspires you always to see the light at the end of the tunnel and motivates you to push forward through the hard times because you recognize that there is still good around you and yet to come.
Gratitude and the Body
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude on a regular basis has many positive effects on the brain and body. It may be surprising to learn that gratitude has a very real impact on the physical body as well as the metaphysical—in particular, brain function. Practicing gratitude targets specific portions of the brain, including the reward center (the ventral striatum), which controls the release of dopamine—helping you feel an increased sense of reward, happiness, and well-being. Gratitude has also been shown to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex—the executive functioning and emotional regulation epicenter. Increased prefrontal cortex activity aids in overall cognitive function, including decision-making, problem-solving, and emotional regulation—all of which can help you better cope with stress and feel more in control of your emotions and environment.
An attitude of gratitude also has been linked to increased activity in the part of the brain that involves social cognition and empathy (the anterior cingulate cortex), making gratitude a key element in teaching our brain to be more understanding and compassionate to those around us. Learning to increase gratitude and adopt a grateful outlook can have significant positive impacts on how your brain functions and interprets the world around you into a more positive lived experience, regardless of what is happening.
Having an attitude of gratitude has also been shown through studies to
- improve sleep,
- reduce inflammation,
- lower blood pressure,
- strengthen the immune system, and
- reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to Practice an Attitude of Gratitude
Now that you understand how powerful gratitude can be both physically and spiritually, you may be wondering how exactly you can tap into this miraculous ability. It may be easier than you think. Here are several ideas for how to jump-start your journey of gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal leads to a reduction of stress, lowers blood pressure, and develops an overall increased sense of wellness. Recording even the most simplistic observations and feelings of gratitude can go a long way in retraining your brain and spirit to focus on the positive instead of being distracted by the negative. These journal entries can be as simple as being grateful for the food you tasted that day, a smell you appreciated, or a new experience that surprised you.
- Practice mindfulness. You may already be in the habit of practicing mindfulness in some way, whether that be yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. If you are, that’s great! Try centering your mind on gratitude during some of your mindfulness exercises, focusing on the small things in your life that bring you joy and peace. If you are new to mindfulness, this is the perfect opportunity to start. Make time each day to be still and let your mind relax without judgment or distress. Start with focusing your mind on one thing or person you are grateful for and use it to anchor your meditation until you become more practiced in clearing your mind.
- Express gratitude to those around you. This may be uncomfortable at first if you are not in the habit of expressing gratitude to those around you, as it can often feel vulnerable to express feelings of thankfulness. Try to remind yourself that expressing gratitude is like giving a gift to those you appreciate around you. Expressing gratitude not only makes those you care for feel appreciated, but it also builds stronger bonds and relationships. Those who feel appreciated are more likely to continue or increase the desired positive behaviors that you have expressed gratitude for and vice versa. Your expressions of gratitude can be as simple as a quick “thank you,” or it could be a short handwritten note, text, or even a heartfelt conversation. Even a small expression of gratitude is better than none at all.
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a powerful tool in your journey to spiritual wellness and enlightenment. Gratitude can come in many different shapes and forms, and practicing and expressing gratitude does not need to be a grand gesture. Practicing gratitude can be as simple as learning to recognize the tiny good things that too often go unnoticed every day and saying “thank you” to the ones you love just for being themselves. You may even notice that the more gratitude you put out into the world, the more you receive right back. The more you practice an attitude of gratitude, the easier it will become, and eventually, you will notice that you no longer have to make an effort to recognize the good around you because gratitude will have become a part of who you are and that’s something you’ll be truly grateful for.