Holly Richardson: Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

Gratitude is like a magic elixir. It has benefits across the spectrum — emotional, social, personality, career and physical health benefits.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial info acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

— Melody Beattie

Gratitude is like a magic elixir. It has benefits across the spectrum — emotional, social, personality, career and physical health benefits.

Gratitude opens the heart and mind — literally. Gratitude activates positive emotion centers in the brain and a regular practice can actually change the way our neurons fire, making us more optimistic, more content and more joyful. It also reduces anxiety and depression.

Gratitude also promotes physical health — lower blood pressure, stronger immune system, fewer symptoms of illness, better sleep.

Gratitude strengthens relationships, making us feel closer to our friends and family. As you might imagine, studies confirm that when partners feel and express gratitude towards each other, their relationship satisfaction increases.

Gratitude “pays it forward.” Grateful people are generally more helpful, generous and compassionate. Those qualities often inspire others to act in similar ways.

I try to practice gratitude all year but I love the month of November when there is increased awareness and encouragement to be grateful.

Here are some ideas for cultivating an attitude of gratitude over the next month:

• Participate in success coach and inspirational speaker Tiffany Peterson’s gratitude series. She hosts 4 weekly calls during the month of November. If you can’t attend live, the calls are recorded and can be listened to any time during the week following the call. To sign up, go to http://gratitudeseries.com I’ve participated for the last several years and feel inspired each time.

• Send hand-written thank you notes. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Expressing gratitude has become something of a lost art.

• Start or continue gratitude journaling. I like to write about five things I am grateful for each day but if you can’t do five, do three. If you can’t do three, do one. Be specific. The practice of writing down what you are grateful for is powerful.

• Serve someone. Bake cookies for your neighbors, spearhead a food drive for your local food bank or food pantry, help mentor a teen who is struggling.

• Use positive words. Did you know words can literally change your brain? In their book “Words Can Change Your Brain,” Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman write that, “A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Using positive words like “peace” and “love” can strengthen areas in our frontal lobes, spur the motivational centers of our brains into action and build resilience.

• Take a gratitude walk. This is particularly useful when stress levels are very high. Spend 20 minutes (or more) and walk. While you walk, focus on the things for which you are grateful — relationships, temporal blessings, gratitude for the information coming to you through your senses. This can be a good way to shift your mood and reframe current stress.

• Use a gratitude rock. Pick a small rock you can carry in your pocket or put on your desk. When you find yourself touching it or looking at it, stop, take a deep breath and think of something you are grateful for.

• Create a gratitude tree with your family. Cut out leaf shapes, write what you are grateful for, one per leaf each day, then assemble into a tree. If you are doing this activity with young children, they can draw a picture on the leaves. You can string the leaves onto branches to make a tree, or draw a tree on a piece of butcher paper, fasten to the wall and attach the leaves.

• Thinking ahead to Christmas, create a gratitude box for one or more of your loved ones. Fill out slips of paper that focus on one thing you appreciate about them, love about them or wish for them and drop them in the box. Wrap it up and deliver it on Christmas Day. If you want to expand this project, have other family members join in.

Enjoy this month of giving thanks.

Holly Richardson is grateful for many things, including the opportunity to be a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, the opportunity to serve others and for the blessing of enough.

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