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The Gift of Gratitude

Only days away from American Thanksgiving, the idea of gratitude is front and center for many of us right now.

In a year that feels like it just keeps taking at every turn, many of us are looking keenly at the things and people we can still be grateful for.  My Facebook feed for November has been filled with friends sharing their #30daysofgratitude, and I know many families will circle the table sharing something they are grateful for when they gather together Thursday (in person or on Zoom) to share their feast.

I am no different: in a year riddled with both personal and widespread loss of varying kinds, I’m keenly trying to remember the many things I have to be thankful for.  So whether it was because it felt “seasonally appropriate,” or because I just needed it, when I planned November’s “Deep Dive” topic inside The Heartful Parent Academy, I resolved to address the link between gratitude, health, and happiness.

The research I found was astonishing.

Did you know that an active gratitude practice is correlated with:

  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol?

  • A significant reduction in the risk of depression in at-risk patients?

  • A reduction in dietary fat intake?

  • A lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure?

  • A reduction in the markers for diabetes?

  • And so much more….

But here’s what I also found: not all gratitude practices are created equal. 

For many of us, if we have any gratitude “practice” at all, it involves rattling off a list of things or people that we are grateful for. Maybe you even record them in some way.  But an interesting study out of the University of Southern California may change that for you—as it has for me.

In this study, research participants were divided into three groups:

  • The first group was asked to make a daily list of five things they were grateful for over a period of two weeks.

  • The second group was asked to write down five ways they felt superior to those around them.

  • And the third group was asked to write down one thing that they were grateful for, but to elaborate as to why in five sentences.

And guess who fared the best? Who experienced the largest increase in overall sense of happiness and well-being?

The final group!  That’s right…the group that didn’t waste their energy comparing themselves to others, and didn’t just state things or people they were appreciative of in a general sense, but those who really put thought into it, soaked their gratitude in, and let that positivity permeate their thinking.

We did this exercise in the Academy, and the members that participated shared their thoughts.  One of my favorites was perfect in its simplicity.

This member said that sunshine was something she was grateful for.  We might all agree (particularly this time of year in the gray Pacific Northwest), but the clarity she brought to her gratitude was beautiful.

She shared that she was grateful for sunshine because:

  • It brings her joy;

  • The warmth on skin puts her in a good mood;

  • It gives her energy and she loves that it makes her more likely to do more with her body, exercise, get more done in a day;

  • It nourishes her body with Vitamin D;

  • It invites more people outside and shares its energy with them, which makes her happy; and

  • It is a life-giving source.

Doesn’t that make the sunshine feel so much more real and make the experience of gratitude that much more present?  I love that.

You can do this with anything you are grateful for…your children, the food on your table, the wind in the trees, the changing seasons, the way the rain falls on the window.  There is no limit to what you can find to be grateful for when you look around you.  And in the searching, get specific, get clear, and ask why.

Gratitude need not be just a November habit—wouldn’t it be lovely if we all practiced it a little more often?  How might you use this research to practice gratitude more?  How might you teach your children?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  In the meantime, I am grateful for YOU, my loyal, savvy, heartful readers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.