By Beate Trück.
November is the time of the year when we need to celebrate good moments in our life in order to compensate for the gloom of the darker and colder days.
Did you know that gratitude is a happiness booster? It has concrete physiological effects: feelings of gratitude release positive endorphins throughout the body. It fosters the hormone dopamine, the brain chemical correlated with reward, pleasure, and satisfaction. Once you have the feel-good benefits of gratitude, you'll want to keep feeling it.
Endorphins also contribute to strengthening and enhancing the immune system,‚ which enables the body to resist disease and recover more quickly from illness. Recent data suggests gratitude provides social and psychological "glue". The hormone oxytocin is associated with promoting the glue that connects adults in meaningful relationships.
Gratitude increases blood flow and activity in the hypothalamus, the master gland that controls hormones. Furthermore, gratitude interventions have been shown to result in improved sleep, more frequent exercise and stronger cardiovascular and immune systems.
The more we experience a sense of gratitude, the more endorphins and the less adrenaline we pump into our systems, thus contributing to longer, healthier lives. As we count our blessings, we literally bathe ourselves inwardly in good hormones.
Gratitude is a skill that you can learn
Like any other skill, gratitude can be practiced. That's why we teach the "10-finger gratitude exercise" in our mindfulness courses. Before you go to sleep, name 10 things that you are thankful for that day, while counting them on your fingers. Children love this. I am always amazed how easily they come up with 10 items.
I have introduced this practice at my family some 6 years ago when my boys were still little. Now they are teenagers and they still do it with us sometimes in the evening. This allows us not only to practice gratitude together, but also to have a little moment of connecting and sharing about the day. In this sense I am truly grateful that we have been able to integrate this little family ritual that helps to strengthen the love and connection amongst us.
Collecting moments of gratitude
Also at the end of each week I give a post-it to my boys and ask them to write down the one thing they were most grateful for in the past week. Once we have all noted our week's highlight, we fold it and put it into a jar (it is almost spilling over now). On New Year's Eve‚ we will open the jar and see what a magnificent year this has been. This helps us to remember the good things in our life that are present every day and every week. It is only the negativity bias of our brain that makes us focus on the difficult and negative stuff rather than the positive things in our life.
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says that our brain is like Velcro to the negative and Teflon to the positive. Therefore, it is important to equip yourself with some simple tools helping you to tap into abundance and joy which are available for you at any moment. You can also practise gratitude by integrating it into your meditation practice or doing a whole meditation around gratitude. Here is one that we have recorded especially for you. You can start it simply by clicking on this link.
I have found that establishing those small rituals around gratitude in the morning and evening are a true happiness booster that have big effects, without taking a lot of time.