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The Magic of Gratitude

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     There is something so powerful about the regular expression of gratitude.  In fact, the affect of gratitude on us is so strong, it is actually measurable.  Science is proving that the ability to be thankful and express it can make us healthier.

     Studies at the University of California have shown that gratitude plays an important role in our physical and emotional well-being.  When individuals were asked to keep a gratitude journal and write down three things for which they were thankful every day, they reported the following results:

     They were happier.  They reported fewer physical ailments.  They were more active.  They were more enthusiastic.  They were more determined.  They felt more joyful.  They felt more energized.  They slept better.  They exhibited a higher immune response.  They were more resilient.  They exhibited more religiousness or spirituality.

        On the other hand, control groups who were asked to write down three things they were upset about or just three things that happened every day which had no emotional impact one way or another reported no such benefits.

     It seems that acknowledging our blessings helps us to actively recognize the positive aspects of our lives.  We become more optimistic, take better care of ourselves and make regular progress toward our goals.  Further, a study done at the University of Miami in 2003 showed that people who regularly express gratitude tend to be more social and compassionate toward others.  And those who express gratitude find that it inevitably comes back to them at some point in time in a sort of thankfulness karma.  In fact, we can create a sort of thankfulness equation: 

Thankfulness = Well-being
Thankfulness + Well-being = An urge to serve others
Thankfulness + Well-being + An urge to serve = Udaemonia
Udaemonia = The feeling we get when we do for others without expectation of getting something back or the familiar saying, "It is better than to give than to receive."  

     Why does all this happen?  Well, scientifically speaking, good feelings which are generated by gratefulness release the brain chemical dopamine which is associated with happiness and activates parts of the brain which control thinking and conflict resolution.  Therefore, a habit of expressing thanks tends to make us get along better with our friends, our families and in the world.

     Now that we know the power of gratitude, how do we harness it?

     Like every other positive change you want to make in life, developing a habit of gratitude takes practice.  The best and easiest way to do this is to keep a “Gratitude Journal”. 

     Any blank paper will do, such as a spiral notebook, but it's nice to purchase an inexpensive blank book to keep by your bedside.
  Lined and unlined blank books can be found everywhere from upscale book stores to inexpensive discount stores.  Or you can keep your journal on the computer or even blog it on-line if you don't mind sharing your thoughts.

     Bed-time is the best time to write in your gratitude journal, when you have
some peace and quiet and can reflect on your day.  Each night, write three things that happened that day for which you are grateful.  We’re not talking about winning the lottery…although that would certainly go in your book.  Write about the simple things that left you happy and uplifted. 

     Perhaps you got to talk to your far-away grandchild on the telephone that day.  Or you enjoyed a particularly beautiful sunset on your way home from work.  Maybe a stranger smiled at you on the street.  Perhaps your favorite basketball team won a barn-burner.  Or maybe you just had a good day with a minimum of pain in your knees. 

      For each item you write down, write why it was good, how it made you feel and who else was involved if that was the case.

     The point is to be just as grateful for the little things as you are for the big exciting happenings in life.  When we learn to be grateful for the little things, we begin to notice more and more in our lives for which to be thankful.  Before we know it, we suddenly realize we live in a world of endless abundance.

     It takes 21 days to form a new habit, so do your best to be faithful to your Gratitude Journal for at least three weeks.  Chances are you will begin to experience some of the positive power of gratitude long before that three weeks is up, and you will want to make the habit a permanent part of your life.  Then, as time goes on, begin to journal how the power of gratitude changes your life.  Don't be surprised if this simple habit is one of the most life-changing habits you've ever developed.