There’s a growing body of research that shows that focusing on and practicing gratitude has many positive effects on our physical and emotional wellbeing, including improved sleep, decreased pain, and more motivation to exercise. Being grateful has also been shown to lead to increased optimism and hope, and sharing our gratitude with others may also improve our relationships. Added together, a more grateful attitude helps to decrease stress and lead to improved health over time.
So, what exactly is gratitude? Gratitude is recognizing the goodness in our lives, big or small, and acknowledging that the source of it lies at least partially outside of ourselves. Whether we attribute it to a person, nature, or a higher power.
We can focus our gratitude in the past, such as a favorite childhood memory, the present, not taking things for granted, and the future, as in being optimistic and hopeful for brighter things ahead. It’s easy to feel grateful for the people and tangible things in our lives when everything’s going well. When life throws us a curveball with our health or our circumstances, it can be difficult to feel grateful.
Human nature is that we tend to focus on and remember negative experiences and situations. Practicing appreciation helps us focus on what we have, rather than what we lack. Intentionally setting aside a few minutes each day to remember and think about something we’re thankful for, no matter how small, can flip the narrative for us and give us perspective. It can be as simple as, “I’m thankful for this hot cup of coffee to get my day started,” or, “I appreciate seeing the leaves budding out on the trees.”
Try and hone in on specifics. Rather than, “I’m thankful for my family,” think about what makes you thankful. Maybe it’s a snuggle from a little one at night, or that your partner made three trips to a store for this. It has the added bonus of making someone else’s day. Thinking about what we’re grateful for each day in a deliberate way is like exercising regularly to build strength and stamina. Some days, it will come easier than others.
There are lots of ways you can practice gratitude. You could keep a gratitude journal, write a thank you note, mentally thank someone, or share what you’re thankful for at mealtime. There are even gratitude apps if you prefer technology. Reading and pondering your appreciation may help you begin to actually feel grateful.
All of us at Home Base encourage and challenge you to share something you’re grateful for on social media with the hashtag #GratiTuesday. Remember that gratitude not only improves your health, but it may also benefit others too.
Check back each Tuesday for ideas to keep your gratitude practice moving, and stay tuned for more tips and suggestions from our Home Base staff. If you have questions about mental health and clinical services at Home Base, please reach out to us.
About the Author: Jacque Francona has been involved with the Home Base Program since its inception in 2009 and joined the staff as a member of the Family Outreach Team in August 2012. Francona is a Military-connected mother of four—one son and three daughters. Her oldest daughter is the proud and ever-concerned sister of three Military siblings. Jacque has been an integral part of the Family Outreach team and has facilitated key partnerships with MA nursing students, Blue Star Mothers, school educators, the MA National Guard Family Program, and MA Operation Military Kids.