Gratitude Practice Cures Winter Blues
Living in Alaska, winter darkness descends with overwhelming longevity. And when days are marked by more grey clouds and rain than snow, the bleakness is devastating. Yet, I wake up, snuggling under my covers and think, “I’m grateful for this warm bed.” When I get up, I’m grateful to be able to turn on heat and to shower in hot water knowing many are without these benefits.
I jumped into Gratitude 100 the same way I’ve begun many projects, with enthusiasm and little initial research. After all, gratitude has been central to my life since I was a child. So, from a personal gratitude list came the idea to create 100 questions to stimulate a gratitude practice I call Gratitude 100 – A Simple Practice for Fulfillment, Balance, and Happiness.
When I finally did research blogs about gratitude, I pleasantly found my ideas shared by others. From the suggestion to write down one’s gratitude in the morning while drinking a cup of tea to recognizing that we can lose the blessings we have when we aren’t grateful. So, as winter cold envelopes most of the nation, this is a good time to answer some of the questions about beginning a simple gratitude practice. Let’s look at some reasons for a gratitude practice, who practices gratitude, and methods of a gratitude practice.
Why Do a Gratitude Practice?
Scientists and doctors have studied gratitude practice and proven its health benefits. Studies show that practicing gratitude helps reduce stress, a large cause of many diseases. People who are grateful are also more optimistic than people who aren’t grateful.
Optimism boosts the immune system to help prevent illness and disease. People who regularly practice gratitude also have higher energy levels and stronger hearts. Feeling grateful stimulates the release of dopamine into the brain preventing depression and creating feelings of happiness.
According to A Network for Grateful Living, the practice of gratefulness fosters personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect, nonviolent conflict resolution, and ecological sustainability. And the number one reason for doing a gratitude practice is being grateful puts a smile on the face.
Who Needs A Gratitude Practice?
Helen Russell, a spiritual creative writer and photographer from New Zealand, began a gratitude practice when she felt her life problems and the separation from her lover became too much to bear. She remembered someone telling her, “Be grateful for small mercies.” Establishing a daily gratitude practice did turn her life around.
James Altucher, a New York trader, investor, writer, and entrepreneur realized he needed to renew his gratitude practice when he found himself totally broke again. He admitted, “I wasn’t grateful for what I had.”
Hailey Batholomew, an Australian film-maker and photographer, suffered from depression until she began to find reasons to be grateful. In addition to overcoming her depression, her relationships improved. So she, with her husband Andrew, began 365grateful.com. People are encouraged to make gratitude photos or videos. The Bartholomews share the video and photographic stories on their site and have also produced a 365 Grateful documentary.
Thousands of people from more than 240 countries daily visit the website, A Network for Grateful Living. This site grew from the work of Brother David Steindl Rast, a Benedictine monk who also studied Zen Buddhism. The site supports the practice of grateful living as a global ethic.
What is a Gratitude Practice?
Simply, a gratitude practice is any practice a person develops to express gratitude daily. Russell offers a nine step process. Among her suggestions is to commit to begin a practice, write gratitude down at a set time of day, and to practice present moment gratitude
She also suggests that we share our gratitude practice with those close to us. Russell stresses that a gratitude practice does not mean the end of bad days but it also should not be set up as a means of attaining goals and then dropped when the goals are accomplished. The purpose of a gratitude practice is to make gratitude an integral part of our daily lives.
For those more results oriented, Altuscher describes how to exercise the “gratitude muscle.” He suggests we begin by writing a list of all the negative situations in our lives and then list all of the good in our lives. Once we can see we do have reasons to be grateful, no matter how negative our current situation may be, we can begin to practice gratitude.
Altuscher suggests three approaches to implement a gratitude practice. We can be grateful all day for everything we see or encounter. Or we can write five e-mails a day to people and tell them why we are thankful for knowing them. And we can keep a gratitude journal, to write down our lists of gratitude.
My current gratitude practice is The Gratitude 100 – A Simple Practice for Fulfillment, Balance, and Happiness. This practice incorporates some of the elements of the two above. But, I created a free downloadable journal and a simple daily catalyst to express at least one reason to be grateful. Every day a gratitude question arrives by e-mail for reflection and response. The Gratitude 100 consists of 20 questions each under the topics physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, and financial.
Now, is the best time to start a gratitude practice to experience how being grateful brings sunshine to cloudy, cold winter days. And yes, I’d be most grateful to you when you join me and practice The Gratitude 100 too.