Last time we discussed emotional wellness in May of 2016, it was defined as developing awareness, understanding and acceptance of your feelings, effectively managing stress, recognizing your limitations and maintaining a sense of optimism. This month we are going to hone in on a specific topic within emotional wellness: gratitude.
The Journey to a Healthier You series appeared monthly throughout 2016 and covered the eight dimensions of wellness in an effort to help readers enhance their own personal sense of well-being. The series focused on one dimension each month, providing tips and strategies that readers could apply to their own lives. In 2017, this series will appear on a quarterly basis.
Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable to you, being thankful for what you have or have worked towards and showing this appreciation to others. Like many other wellness topics we have discussed, gratitude is subjective and personal to an individual because it is based on one’s own values and belief system.
Practicing gratitude is beneficial to our emotional wellness and these benefits also carry over into other aspects of wellness. Gratitude can increase our happiness and make us healthier by eliciting the relaxation response, which causes the brain to release chemicals that slow down our muscles and organs and increase blood flow to the brain. It also helps you sleep better and is beneficial to your body (physical wellness), strengthens relationships and makes you a better friend to others (social wellness) and boosts overall well-being.
Unsure of how grateful you are? Consider the following statements and how strongly you agree with them:
- I have so much in my life to be thankful for.
- I am grateful to a wide variety of people.
- If I had to list everything I felt grateful for, it would be a long list.
- As I get older, I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events and situations that have been part of my life.
The more you agreed with the statements above, the higher your level of gratitude. Do you feel like you need to boost your level of gratitude? Start small by finishing this sentence: “I am grateful for _____.” What you are grateful for can often change based on circumstances, situations, life events and the people you surround yourself with at home, at work or in your community.
If you would like to dedicate more time to increasing your level of gratitude but are unsure of where to start, simplify the task by asking yourself what you are thankful for every day. It could be your spouse or significant other, your parents, your children, someone you reconnected with or something as simple as a random stranger who held the door for you.
You can also reflect on what you are grateful for by journaling, writing a letter, meditating, doing yoga or spending time in prayer or in nature. Physical activity is also beneficial to get your blood pumping and those creative juices flowing.
Another way to boost your level of gratitude is during your interactions with others. Try to complain less and compliment more. Be respectful and humble in your actions. When having a conversation, whether it’s with one person or a group, listen to what they have to say rather than thinking about the next thing you are going to contribute.
We encourage you to take some time and reflect on your life and the people, places and things that make it a life worth living. The more time you spend reflecting, the easier it will be. The more you think about gratitude, the more grateful you will become.
[Emily Smith is the Health Promotion Division’s Senior Benefit & Wellness Specialist.]