Want to Feel Happier? Try Gratitude

Welcome Guest Contributor Keri Feldkamp.                      blck-wht-head-shot

Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.

Eckhart Tolle

 

Thanks!

By now you’ve probably heard that practicing gratitude on a daily basis is beneficial, right? Research shows that people who regularly practice gratitude by expressing or noticing things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, sleep better, cope better with stress, show more compassion and kindness, and even have better health.

 

So how is it that gratitude produces so many good things? Turns out there’s a complex relationship between our thoughts, emotions, brain chemistry, endocrine system, and other physiological systems in our bodies. Basically, your thoughts affect your mental and physical health.

 

What we think about affects how we feel (emotionally and physically). So if you increase the positive thoughts, like gratitude and appreciation, you can increase your overall sense of well-being and life satisfaction. By making gratitude a habit, you can change the emotional tone of your life, thus creating more contentment, peace, and connection with others.

 

Sign me up!

Here are a few ways to practice gratitude that I know work, either because my clients told me, I’ve experienced it for myself, and/or research supports the claims.

 

For 21 days, list three things you’re grateful for. Make sure you list new things every day, no repeats. A study by researchers at Harvard showed that participants who did this felt more optimistic at the end of the 21 days than they did when they started.

 

Write them in a gratitude journal, in your planner, or in the notes app on your phone. This works because it slowly changes what we focus on. Challenge yourself to go beyond your immediate surroundings. Stretch yourself to notice new things each day, no matter how small they seem and see if you notice a difference in how you feel after 21 days.

 

If journaling isn’t your thing, get creative. Keep a gratitude jar on the counter and fill it with notes about what you’re grateful for. Stick post-it notes around the house where you can see them. Get the kids involved.

 

Take your practice a step further and write a letter thanking someone for a kind gesture or for help and support they offered. What is even better is telling someone thank you in person. In person connection does good things to us chemically.

 

Another great practice is to take a walk outside for 20 minutes by yourself once a week, ideally taking a different route each time, paying close attention to as many positive sights, sounds, smells, or other sensations as you can. Use your senses and pay attention to the present moment.  Research by Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff has found that taking this kind of stroll led to an increase in happiness one week later. (You can find these results here: Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.) .

 

Make it stick

                                                                                                                                       

            If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time creating a new habit and making it last. If this is the case for you, think ahead and anticipate any obstacles that may stand in the way of your daily practice and plan around them.

 

You can also incorporate a social aspect by practicing with your best friend and holding each other accountable. Or you could practice with your family at the dinner table and take turns recapping the good stuff that happened during the day. Maybe you’ll find you end up appreciating these conversations and wanting to add them to your gratitude list!

 

Make sure you note how you feel before you start your gratitude practice so you can compare it to how you feel later. You could do a 1-10 scale measuring optimism or an overall sense of well-being and life satisfaction.

 

If you get stuck or have comments or questions I’d love to hear from you. Let me know how it goes. You can leave a comment or email me at kerifcounseling@gmail.com.

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About Keri

Keri is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky. She has a Master of Science in social work from the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Art in psychology from Western Kentucky University. She has nearly 15 years of experience working with people of all ages and in a variety of settings. Her specialties include Adult ADHD, women with ADHD, stress management, depression, and anxiety. She uses evidence-based treatments such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), and mindfulness-based techniques. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends and in her spare time she loves practicing yoga, reading, and doing anything that allows her to feel creative.

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