Gratitude and appreciation are two powerful ways to overcome depression and anxiety. The holiday season can be especially difficult when it comes to feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and anxious.
Cultivating a practice of gratitude can transform your spirits and attitude and help you enjoy life without feeling over-burdened, burned out and exhausted. Practicing anyone of these tips on a daily basis is a way to cultivate the feelings of happiness and joy while releasing feelings of sadness and anger. Of course, cultivating any new thing requires an ongoing practice. We don’t overcome negative feelings in one day – we must continue to find things that help us become resilient.
Here, then, are some ways we can cultivate gratitude.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
According to psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California-Riverside, keeping a gratitude journal —where you record once a week all the things you have to be grateful for — and other gratitude exercises can increase your energy, and relieve pain and fatigue. I think cultiviating a daily practice has to be even more powerful! I In my daily journal, I make a list of each day’s “little joys,” moments that I would fail to appreciate if I didn’t make myself record them, such as: "a warm and comforatble bed", "my beautiful office space" or “being healty and active.” This exercise reminds me of all the blessings in my life I take for granted and encourages me to appreciate those mundane moments that can be sources of joy.
At night before bed, I mentally take note of all the things in the day to be grateful for. Even if it was a challenging day, I find at least one thing.
2. Use the right words.
According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, words literally can change your brain. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write: “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words, such as “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. According to the authors, they propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and build resiliency. So choose your words carefully!
3. Remember the good times.
“Gratitude is the heart’s memory,” says the French proverb. Therefore, one of the first steps to thankfulness is to remember those in our lives who have walked with us and shown kindness for deeds big and small. I have been extremely fortunate to have so many positive mentors in my life. At every scary crossroad, there was a guardian or messenger there to help me find my way. The mere exercise of remembering such people can cultivate gratitude in your life.
4. Write thank-you letters.
According to psychologist Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, a powerful exercise to cultivate gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life. Even if the person you write the letter too has passed, it’s still important to include them in this powerful way to cultivate gratitude.
Emmons says the letter is especially powerful when you have not properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face to face.
I was able to do this several years ago for some very important people who I was fortunate enough to have in my life over the years. One of them was my Principal at my high school. She was elated to receive my letter and several years later when she passed away, it gave me a tremendous sense of relief that I took the time to let her know how much her kindness and generosity changed my life.
5. Hang with the winners.
Peer pressure never really goes away, you know. Studies show that married folks hanging out with happy couples are more likely to stay married themselves; that if your friends eat well, their willpower will rub off on you; and that if you surround yourself with optimists, you will end up more positive than if you keep company with a bunch of whiners. By merely sitting next to a person who likes the words “thank you,” there is a high probability that you will start using those words as well.
6. Give back.
Volunteer your time and talents. Find a way to say thank you to someone who changed your life. Even if what you can give doesn’t match their kindness – it’s still the act of giving. If the person has moved away or passed on, give back to someone else they way you were given too. Giving back doesn’t mean reciprocating favors so that everything is fair and the tally is even. That’s the beauty of giving. If someone does an act of kindness for you, one way to say thanks is to do the same for another.
Nikki Buckstead is a Certified Life Coach and meditation teacher, as well as Certified in Workplace Wellness Programs. She is the co-author of the best-selling book The Recipe for Success with Jack Canfield. She also serves as the President of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce of Huntington Beach. She owns Transformative Coaching & Consulting Services. For more information on her programs and services, visit www.nikkibuckstead.com