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Waking up in the morning feels like such a common occurrence most days, that the feat passes us by without a moment’s reflection. Getting up and ready for work seems like a chore, and often holds a tinge of annoyance or resentment that on this beautiful day, we need to head out of our cozy beds and toil. We feed and walk barking fur babies, get children ready for school, wait in line at the local coffee shop… and make it to work, only to focus our mind, time and attention on tasks that may or may not breed contentment during the long day. Missing from this equation, often, is a moment of reflection or gratitude for the things in the day that either spark joy or offer relief from the mundane.
The thing is, when it comes to cultivating happiness, gratitude holds a unique position. According to leading gratitude researchers, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, those who express gratitude during the week are more optimistic and feel better about their lives than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania found that when participants in his study were tasked to write letters of appreciation to someone, they experienced significant jumps in scores on their happiness index.
Researchers out of Indiana University found that gratitude did a number of positive things to the brain, including helping to release toxic emotions. They noted specifically that lessening the occurrence of negative words during the day and increasing the number of positive words associated with gratitude in a day, resulted in better mental and physical health.
So what does this all mean?
In a nutshell, gratitude, even when life circumstances have not been altered, changes the brain in positive ways making us happier and more resilient as a result.
Just to be clear, when we are going through times of crisis and it feels like the rug is being unceremoniously pulled from under our feet, gratitude is difficult to find. Yet, it is at precisely these times that it is essential to find all of the ways in which we are grateful, even while we acknowledge that the specific events occurring in our lives is undesirable, as a way to help us cope with the crisis.
Thus, as we draw closer to the holidays when gratitude is at the center of our thoughts, but so sometimes is the heavy pain of loss and disconnection, I would like to encourage all of us to take notice of the little things. Gratitude for waking up to a new day, for the sounds of birdsong and Autumn chill, for any moment of peace we receive in the midst of chaos.
Because we are happier and healthier for it.
For Further Reading:
Sassy’s Blog is named for the very astute cat of WRC’s Clinical Director and Counselor Kai Qualls, M.A., LPC. The theme of the Blog is Resilience, which is especially timely given our shared uncertainty during these times. We hope you will enjoy and benefit from Sassy’s Blog, this month written by Clinical Director Kai Qualls, M.A., LPC.