Welcome back to the blog and welcome to November! With Thanksgiving as the next big holiday coming up–and November being National Gratitude Month–I’ve found myself thinking about gratitude this week, and how gratitude and some of the elements that related to it (like forgiveness) can have powerful benefits for your mental and physical health. I try to live out many of the gratitude and forgiveness practices that I’ll talk more about below, and as I reflect on the idea of gratitude, I want to start by saying that I’m grateful for all of you! Launching the Flourishing Fiercely blog was a longtime goal of mine but definitely took me out of my comfort zone, and I so appreciate all the engagement and support I’ve received from my community of blog readers over these past months!
- The Mental Benefits Of Gratitude. Practicing gratitude helps your overall mental health because you instantly have a better outlook on life. Don’t be surprised to walk away from your latest gratitude meditation with a big smile on your face. Of course, the benefits don’t stop at increased happiness. Feeling more gratitude has been linked to a better self-image, less anxiety and even a reduction of depression. This comes as no surprise to scientists who have recorded increased levels of dopamine and serotonin after intentional gratitude meditations.
- The Physical Benefits Of Gratitude. This is where it gets interesting. It’s one thing to feel better emotionally, but the release of these “feel-good” hormones affects your physical body as well. Gratitude reduces stress and with it, you’re sleeping better, your blood pressure lowers, and you have more energy. As a result, you move more, leading to even better overall physical health. Maybe your gratitude exercise motivates you to go out for a walk, getting more oxygen into your body and loading up on Vitamin D. Being able to sleep soundly reduces appetite and less stress helps you make smarter food choices. All these things work hand in hand to turn you into a healthier and stronger version of yourself.
How can you tap into both the mental and physical benefits of gratitude? By feeling more of it. Of course, that’s easier said than done. A great place to start is by creating a habit of thinking of at least one person or one thing you are deeply grateful for each morning as soon as you wake up. It sets the tone for the whole day and gets you off to a great start to reap these powerful benefits.
Forgiveness-What’s Holding You Back
The more you read and learn about the power of gratitude on both body and mind, the more amazed you will be about how much it can do for you. Think back on the last time you held a grudge. What did that feel like? Did you have a pit in your stomach? Did you have trouble sleeping? Were you distracted from other, more important things? What did you lose because you chose to stay angry at the other person?
But here’s the kicker: the person you’re holding the grudge against might not even know it, or they might not even remember what they did. They are not suffering because you’re upset. You are. You’re holding on to all that negativity and over time, that can contribute to stress and erode your well-being. Don’t let holding a grudge make you sick. Instead, focus on forgiveness and gratitude. Take a deep breath and find it in your heart to forgive the other person. It’s not easy, but it is within your power.
And if you’re struggling to forgive a toxic person or a harmful thing that someone said or did, remember–forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you need to let them back into your life, or put yourself back in a situation that allows them to hurt you again. It’s OK to forgive but still draw healthy boundaries for yourself. Forgiveness is actually less about the other person’s actions and more about you. Do it for yourself because you know you will instantly feel better and it will do wonders for your mental health and state of mind.
But What If You’re Stuck in Negativity?
Practicing gratitude and focusing on positivity is easier said than done. Especially if you are struggling with anxiety and depression; if you ever find yourself spiraling into the deep pit of depression then get help if you need it. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a counselor or getting therapy. It’s the smart thing to do.
When things aren’t quite that bad, there’s a lot you can do to get yourself unstuck from all that negativity. Start by acknowledging the negative feelings that are coming up and putting them into words. How exactly do you feel? Is it anger or annoyance? Frustration or disappointment? Try to be specific. Dig deep. Yes, it can be painful and some people prefer to avoid thinking about these feelings, but the first step to getting yourself unstuck is determining exactly where you are emotionally.
Once you’ve identified the feeling, you can start to work on discovering what caused them. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Other times, not so much. In either case, I encourage you to dig deep because often the obvious answer isn’t the real root cause. Yes, you may be mad at your spouse for running up the credit card bill, but if you dig deep, you may discover that there are some underlying core values that don’t align between the two of you. Once you find the true reason for your negative feelings, you can start to work to resolve them. What that looks like will vary from case to case. The important takeaway here is that it gives you something specific and meaningful to do. You no longer feel out of control or helpless. It’s something you can work with and that alone will help you think more positively
In addition, it allows you to distance yourself a little from the negative feelings. You may still be upset with your spouse, but it also gives you the space to remember everything you love about them. It gives you the space to act outside of the negativity and have a good relationship while you work things out. And sometimes, it may give you the mental space you need to realize that it is up to you to decide if you want to continue to dwell in the negativity, or choose a route of forgiveness. You can’t change everything or everyone. Sometimes your path toward positivity is to acknowledge your negative feelings and then let them go.
Of course all of this is easier said than done. A journal can be a great tool to help you along the way. Try talking to a close friend or confidant when you feel stuck and you can’t see a path towards positivity. An outside perspective can give a lot of clarity. Meditation can be helpful as well. Last but not least, surround yourself with positivity. Get outside and enjoy nature. Spend some time helping others. And don’t forget to remind yourself regularly of everything you have to be grateful for.
Turning Gratitude Outward – Sharing With The World
Practicing gratitude regularly has a big impact on your life, your health, and your mental and emotional wellbeing. But it doesn’t end there. It will also have a big impact on those around you and the world at large when you start to turn your gratitude outwards and share it far and wide. What if, instead of simply practicing gratitude for yourself, you take it out to the world at large? What could happen? What force of good could you create? There is no telling how many lives you could influence for the better. Let’s take a look at how you, I, and everyone else reading this can start to turn their gratitude outward and share it with those around them.
- Random Acts of Kindness. Do something kind for a stranger. This can be something as simple as giving an open and honest smile to a stranger on the street or a few kind words and a compliment for the cashier ringing up your groceries. Or it could be taking a meal to an elderly neighbor or buying a drink for the person behind you in the coffee shop drive-thru line. Make it a goal to do something kind for someone each day and do it intentionally.
- Respect And Thank Those Who Serve You. There are so many people in our communities that serve us from first responders to the server at your favorite restaurant. Make it a point to be respectful and thank them with words, with actions, and in the case of service staff perhaps with a generous tip. Show them how grateful you are for everything they do to make your life easier.
- Volunteer In Your Community. What better way to show your gratitude than to give your time and your skills? There are many opportunities for anyone to volunteer in various projects and for a variety of different causes. See what’s available around you and make an effort to put in some time to volunteer each month. Not only is it a wonderful way to give back and spread gratitude, but you’ll be amazed at how much you get out of it.
Finally, I want to close by adding that I’m grateful for the grace that you, my regular readers, have given me for getting a little off track on my weekly posting schedule in October! It was an especially intense month of work, work travel, and of course, keeping my business going, and a couple of blog posts fell by the wayside. I’ll be taking a break from posting again during the week of Thanksgiving, but until then I’m excited to get back to my weekly schedule and hope you find some tips and insights in this month’s posts to help keep you centered and energized as we head into a busy holiday season and the last two months of the year!