At the end of each day I spend a couple minutes jotting down a few things that made me happy or grateful. This does not mean that every day is an overflowing pot of rainbows that I have to whittle down into a couple lines. Some days I forget to do it until the reminder on my phone goes off.
I do this as a reminder that no matter how unraveled I am, there are moments on beauty in each day. There is a breeze in the hottest of days and moments of rest in the most tiring of treks.
The Bible refers to beauty from ashes and spiritually tells us to look for the message in the mess. Writing down 5 things I am grateful for helps me to make a conscious effort to connect with these moments or consider why these moments were brought in our path in the first place.
A more mainstream way to think of this is gratitude. Anyone who has lived on a planet with Oprah has heard anecdotes of how we should keep a gratitude journal. But there is scientific evidence that Oprah is right – at least about the gratitude stuff.
What is gratitude
Sure, there is a fancy definition of gratitude and there is the Thanksgiving experience of dinner table gratitude. I like to think of gratitude as the intentional connection with something that brings me positive feelings.
This does not always mean joy, but often does. It might just be a warm knowing that I noticed what the universe / my Higher Power / Nature / God meant for me to notice. It might mean a solid understanding that I picked up the breadcrumb that assured me I am on the right track.
The more I notice these breadcrumbs, the more breadcrumbs appear. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. And it is not a coincidence that as these breadcrumbs build up, my health and happiness has improved as well.
Science of gratitude
Researchers have studied gratitude in all three dimensions of Sustainable Productivity (SusPro) – physical, mental and environmental. They did not know about SusPro specifically, but the research proves that we are on the right track toward a life we don’t need to escape when we intentionally connect with that positivity.
Health & Fitness
A small pilot study of heart failure patients who completed gratitude journaling exercises showed reduced inflammation (an indicator related to morbidity this population). Another study reported better overall physical health was found in grateful individuals – especially in the older adults (50-80 years old) compared to the younger group in the study (20-50 years old).
Gratitude is also linked to improved ability to fall asleep faster and better quality of sleep once you fall asleep. But it is not just our physical health. Connecting with positivity can also improve several components of mental well-being.
Gratitude can extend outside of ourselves as well. Relationships are a key part to our mental well-being. This is for introverts and extroverts. Individuals married or not. Work and personal relationships.
A study looked at how gratitude impacted romantic relationships. Results showed an increase in relationship connection and satisfaction – so much so that authors described it as “acting as a booster shot for the relationship.”
But wait! There’s more! Let’s look at the impact of gratitude on our environmental surroundings as well.
The link between environmental surroundings and gratitude can be approached a little differently. Let’s start with digital and physical clutter. Gratitude can be the doorway to releasing the digital and physical clutter in a few ways:
Subscribing to Marie Kondo’s theories of thanking items for their usefulness before removing them from your home.
Finding charities who need items that are just taking up space. For example, my daughter and I were able to donate 2 bags of toiletry samples and half used items this week. It was easy to let go when we knew they would be used by someone in need.
Supporting local “Buy Nothing” groups by posting items you don’t want or need. Giving them away to those who are seeking them in a way that reduces its impact on our wallet can help us loosen the emotional grip on the item.
Understanding the Yesterday You that acquired these items is different from the Today You who no longer needs them. There is no shame in letting things go if you don’t find them to be loved, beautiful or useful.
Sustainable You Reflection
Clearly gratitude is more powerful than we ever thought. It is more than warm fuzzies when you hold the door open – although it is that too. It changes our body chemistry. Gratitude can lay down new pathways in our brain. Gratitude can make us more generous with our time and material wealth.
Let’s unlock more gratitude together. Each day join me in writing down 5 things we are grateful for. This can be in an email to yourself, a leftover notebook you have lying around, in a special journal you buy for this purpose, or an app on your phone.
Just 5 things. Set a reminder on your phone for a time you are least likely to have something going on.
Until next time remember to create productive results in a way that you can sustain and that work for you.