Ask Dr. Mike: On Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude for 2019!

Ask Dr. Mike: On Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude for 2019!

As 2018 nears the end, many of us are thinking about the things we might want to improve on in our lives for the coming year.  And while losing weight, drinking less alcohol, exercising more, spending less, improving self-care and working less, are always great new year’s resolution go-tos, I invite you to think about cultivating an attitude of gratitude for 2019.

There is an abundance of research showing the benefits of gratitude when it comes to mental health.  More specifically, research studies have found that practicing gratitude significantly improves happiness, sleep, empathy and prosocial behaviors, self-esteem, emotional resilience (even after trauma) and it can open the door to more friendships.  Conversely, practicing gratitude can serve to significantly decrease depression, negative thinking and thoughts of revenge.  Grateful people also tend to take care of themselves and live more active and healthy lifestyles compared to others; they attend annual physicals and exercise with greater consistency. Being grateful also increases the neurochemicals that make us happiest – serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin — and research using brain imaging scans (i.e. fMRI) has even shown that practicing gratitude changes your brain over time!

Here are a few tips to consider if you decide to make being more grateful a new year’s resolution:

Keep a gratitude journal.  Writing down the things you enjoy, find grace in or benefit from on a daily basis will help you to think and feel more grateful.  If the idea of daily journaling seems overly burdensome, just write down two things that you are grateful for from your day close to bedtime.

Express yourself more positively. Marketing firms know very well the impact positive verbalizations have on customers, and Chick-Fil-A is a great example of this.  The fast food restaurant uses the brilliant tactic of saying “my pleasure” at the end of each and every customer transaction because they know that the statement makes people feel happier. So, for 2019, expressing gratitude with statements such as “thank you” and “my pleasure” with sincerity (i.e. with a positive tone, eye contact, and warmth) will not only feel good, but it will impact how others respond to you and think of you.

Volunteer.  The more we give, the happier and more grateful we think and feel, so helping someone and being part of something bigger than yourself will remind you of all that you have.  Volunteering will also help you to feel more connected to your community and can provide a sense of personal accomplishment.  Along with volunteering, doing good deeds can also lead to feeling more grateful, and you can make the practice of deeding a fun one.  For example, as a practice, try doing two good deeds a day, but with the stipulation that the individual or place that benefits from your good deed or kind action cannot know that you did it.  This should lead to you’re feeling good in all sorts of ways.  If you’re looking for activities to get involved in locally, I’m a huge fan of Serve Camp in Loudoun County, which is a Summer camp that promotes serving and selflessness for children and teens, and their information can be found at: www.teenservecamp.com.  I’m also a fan of the Growing Gratitude Tree project/product that Leesburg entrepreneur, Jennifer Garman, recently created.  The project promotes gratitude within the home for children and parents, and you can learn more about it by visiting: www.gratitudemission.org.

Leave positive on-line reviews.  If you have a positive experience at an establishment, let the folks there know and let the public know by leaving a positive review.  From Jiffy Lube to your dentist, and every place and person in between, when you leave a positive review you’re making someone happy, which in turn, should improve your own sense of happiness and gratitude.  As a psychologist, I have had the good fortune of receiving many positive on-line reviews over the years from patients and colleagues, and I’m deeply grateful for every single one of them.

Practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the therapeutic notion of being fully present; where you calmly accept your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without necessarily doing anything.  By being more mindful in 2019, you’ll allow yourself to be in the moment more, which should help you to hone in better on the positive and good in your life.  This should also lead to a greater appreciation for all that you have.

Spend time with your loved ones.  There’s an old saying that, “Time heals all wounds,” and I would add that “love” is also an important factor to healing and wellness.  Spending time with your loved ones will remind you of what matters most in your life – your children, your significant other and your family.  Sure work and personal time is important and can be rewarding, but seeing the loving expression of joy on your child or significant other’s face when you’ve given meaningful time to them is priceless when it comes experiencing gratitude.      

Give more selflessly.  While Loudoun County continues to be ranked as a top place to live in the U.S., residing here can also be stressful – it’s expensive, many of us have long commutes, it’s competitive, and its rapid growth can be off-putting with our beautiful hillsides, fields, and forests being sold off for more and more data centers and housing and business developments.  And when the median household income in Loudoun is about $120,000 with the median home value being close to $500,000, being giving or charitable is often not on our minds.  But if you allow yourself to live a more grateful life, being more generous of yourself (which, will in turn lead to feeling more grateful) should follow suit.  So, by giving more of yourself – time, gifts/money, attention – you, and those around you, will reap the benefit of increased gratitude.

Regardless of your religious beliefs or faith, “A Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi” is a beautiful prayer that I would like to share here.  Even if you’re agnostic or atheist, the message is an important one inasmuch as it promotes a mindset, and a way of thinking of yourself in relation to others, that fosters gratitude.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Amen.

Here’s to a great and a grateful 2019!

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