A fast track to joy: inside gratitude

December 7, 2022

With the rising cost of living and unrest throughout the world, it can be difficult to be thankful for what we have.

But as we head into the holidays, gratitude may just be the gift that keeps us going through the darkest winter nights.

Negativity and gratitude

We live in a time of rapid change - whether we want that change or not. And when we can't control our journey, looking forward to our destination can feel impossible.

But one thing we do have some control over is our thoughts.

“Our thoughts have a powerful impact on how we feel, and they influence our actions,” says Lucille Meisner, a Master of Social Work and a Registered Social Worker with Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Program.

Whether our thoughts are positive or negative, they can have an enormous effect on our health. Negative thinking can make stress even worse - and chronic stress can have a range of health impacts, including depression, digestive problems and heart damage.

On top of affecting our physical health, negativity limits our personal development.

“Negativity keeps us from being the best version of ourselves; it doesn't allow space for curiosity, growth and compassion,” Meisner says. “Negativity clouds how we see our day, and it can create a mindset where we miss expressions of gratitude and opportunities to show gratitude. What we do know is that negativity and gratefulness cannot co-exist.”

Of course, completely replacing negativity with gratitude and optimism is far from realistic. But the benefits of incorporating gratitude into daily life are worth it.  

Research has shown that while practicing gratitude improves mental well-being, it may also benefit physical health.  

A 2020 review of 19 studies showed that gratitude can also improve subjective sleep quality, blood pressure, blood sugar and eating behaviours. And in a 2022 study, gratitude was linked to a reduction in harmful cholesterol.  

“Expressing and receiving gratitude brings happiness and fulfillment,” Meisner says. “The more daily gratitude experiences, the better we feel - it is a fact!  We feel increased happiness, increased resilience to stress and a higher satisfaction with life.”

How do we be more grateful?

For many of us, gratitude does not come naturally - especially during hard times. While practicing gratitude won't solve our problems, it can help keep us moving and stay resilient.

Meisner breaks down the four parts of gratitude:

  1. What we notice for which we can be grateful. Are we paying attention to small and big acts of kindness?
  1. How we think about what we have. For instance, how did we get it?
  1. How we feel about the things we have. For example, what do we notice happening within us?  
  1. What we do to express appreciation. Are we able to thank, are we able to receive with grace? Do we minimize? Or do we accept, thank and perhaps pay it forward?

Gratitude can require mindfulness - the practice of keeping your attention and thoughts on the present moment.

“Paying attention in the moment can move us toward living with gratitude,” Meisner says. She recommends having at least one minute of stillness each day.

“Choose a person, an object or a view/landscape that you find beautiful, and look closely for one minute,” she says. “Soak it in. See the beauty - this simple exercise brings forth gratitude as our thoughts and feelings focus on something that brings feels of happiness.”  

But you don't have to stop what you're doing to incorporate gratitude into your life.

“From the time we rise, we can express gratitude to those who help us get through our day with ease,” Meisner says. “The person who made my coffee this morning, my bus driver, the person who helped me understand a request . . . there are countless opportunities each day to express gratitude.

“In acknowledging the goodness in our lives, we connect to something larger than ourselves - gratitude, by its shared nature, creates and fosters human connection. How often do we hear people who volunteer say ‘I get back more than I give?'”

She also recommends bringing gratitude practices into our daily activities.

“Dinner time conversation can include each individual sharing three people/places/experiences that they are grateful for today,” she says. “This is also a great way to instill an attitude of gratitude in children. End of day is also a good time to reflect on the people/places/experiences for which we are grateful. Each day brings many opportunities for gratitude. When we do this, we begin to grant significance to the smallest of kind gestures in addition to the bigger, more obvious ones.”    

On top of practicing gratitude, doing things for others can also help instill gratitude in yourself and those around you, Meisner says.

“The act of giving takes us outside of our sometimes critical negative thoughts and connects us to something bigger that can elicit feels of awe and gratitude,” she says. “The Pay it Forward movement is based on the reality that if I respond to one person's kindness by helping another, I am helping myself, and the circle continues to expand outward.”

Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross

If you're struggling, reach out for help.

Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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