Gratitude is the practice of noticing and being thankful for what is valuable and meaningful to you. You may know it as appreciation, grace, recognition or thankfulness. Or you may experience it by focusing on the silver linings, counting blessings, or stopping to smell the roses. Regardless of how you practice gratitude, these feelings have powerful mental and physical health benefits. Gratitude can foster positivity, and with positivity, we can find resilience in ourselves and our loved ones.
Research has shown there are many health benefits to feeling gratitude. Here are just a few:
- Increases happiness and self–esteem
- Improves relationships (from family and friends to romantic partners)
- Leads to higher levels of positive emotions like optimism, enthusiasm, love, and happiness
- Helps people find meaning and purpose in daily life
- Reduces stress and feelings of depression
- Makes people more forgiving, generous and compassionate
- Decreases physical challenges including pain
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves the immune system
- Improves sleep
- Lowers the risk for mental health issues including major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and substance dependence and abuse.
- Improves ability to cope with stress more effectively and recover more quickly from stressful situations
- Leads to more regular exercise and healthier eating
- Increases lifespan–on average, being thankful adds 7 years to our lives!
Learning to express gratitude is an ongoing process. That’s why is often referred as “practicing” gratitude. There are many different ways to practice gratitude. Some people like to have a gratitude journal or notebook to write down their thoughts. Some prefer to type them in a blog, app or computer document. Others simply keep a running list. Another option is to have an audio or video recording of gratitude. Some adults and children love to have their thoughts of gratitude recorded and then kept private or shared digitally with family and friends or even publicly on social media. Or maybe you just create a habit of calling someone to share your gratitude – this will likely lift their spirits as well. Creative people, or children with limited verbal skills, may prefer to draw or create a collage of what they are grateful for
Need some prompts to start? Try the acronym, HEART, as suggested by the American Heart Association:
- Health: Think of what your body allowed you to do today. Maybe your feet enabled you to walk around the house or your arms allowed you to hold a pet you love.
- Eat: What nourishment did you provide your body today? What was your favorite meal?
- Activity: Did you do something today that you really enjoyed? Take a moment to reflect on and savor it.
- Relationship: Did you see or talk to someone today who brings you joy? Or are you planning to see someone on a video chat who fits that description?
- Time: There’s no time like the present. Allow yourself to be grateful for the fact that you’re here.
If you find yourself saying that you have nothing to be grateful for, try thinking about all the little things you have. You may find that you’re taking for granted certain things you have that others don’t. Even the basics, sunlight, warmth or oxygen to breath are all things you may have gratitude for.
Whatever you do, give yourself some grace; don’t worry if you don’t remember to practice regularly, or if you struggle to find things you have gratitude for. Keep it simple and find what works for you and your family. Each night at dinner, my family tries to say three things we are grateful for. Sometimes my sons repeat things several days in a row, at other times come up with something completely new. We have found this practice given us reason to look for things throughout the day, which keeps us positive. I have learned a lot about what is important to my family; which helps me ensure I do more of the things they are grateful for.
While we are facing unprecedented times and caring for a child with a neurologic condition can be very challenging, remember, life will eventually return to normal, even if it’s a new normal. Practicing gratitude can be a powerful tool to help us maintain the mental and physical energy we need to navigate our day–to–day realities. This month, CNF is sharing messages of gratitude from our community and we hope these messages remind you that you are not alone and there is still so much for which we can be grateful.
Below are some messages of gratitude I have heard from our community during this new normal.
- Teachers and therapists are reporting that they are learning new skills to engage their students/patients.
- Doctors are getting to know families in their home; which is helping them better understand challenges and successes.
- During telehealth appointments, parents have access to records notes they may not have thought to bring to the doctor’s office.
- Families have shared how members of their community have gone above and beyond to support them, by running errands, bringing meals, or helping with household repairs.
- Parents are reporting they feel less stress about managing extracurricular activities and they are able to spend more time at home.
- Mindfulmazing.com’s Best Gratitude Activities for Kids and How to Teach Gratitude to Kids
- Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio Growing Our Gratitude initiative
Cyndi is a passionate advocate for children with neurologic disorders. In addition to consulting for CNF, she is trained as a special education advocate. When Cyndi is not managing programs or supporting her school community, you can find her outdoors in the mountains with her husband, two sons and two dogs