Did you know that when you express gratitude and offer positive feedback, you’re literally changing the molecular structure of your brain?
Expressing gratitude can also help you become more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant.
At our March 10 GaGa Sisterhood meeting, 30 grandmas listened to an uplifting presentation by speakers Barbara Tyler and Philippa Perkin on the many benefits of expressing gratitude.
Philippa explained that she was always nagging her teenage son about doing his homework. But it wasn’t working for either of them. She realized she needed to find a different way to communicate.
She began researching the positive benefits of expressing gratitude. She learned that we’ll actually try new things when we receive positive affirmations. Those affirmations stimulate the reward centers in our brains so we learn better and repeat those new learned actions.
Armed with this information, Philippa tried a new approach with her son. She brought positive, encouraging language to every conversation she had with her son and expressed gratitude for the smallest things he did even if she had to ask him to unload the dishwasher five times.
Six weeks into her experiment, her son asked: “Are you on medication?”
Surprised by his reaction, she asked why he thought that.
“You’ve been so nice and thanking me for everything?”
Philippa discovered that the more she expressed gratitude to her son, the more helpful he became and the more appreciative they became of each other. Expressing gratitude and appreciation increases our natural capacity for love.
Your Thoughts Affect Your Health
Our health is directly related to our thoughts. If you have negative thoughts, those thoughts influence your health negatively, molecularly, and hormonally. When we’re angry, worried or complaining, our body produces a hormone called cortisol, which is called “public health enemy #1.”
These are the negative effects of anger, worry and complaining:
- Increases stress levels
- Lowers immune function
- Raises blood pressure
- Raises heart rate
- Increases risk of heart disease
- Interferes with sleep patterns
- Increases probability of diseases like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimers
- Interferes with learning & memory
- Longer recovery from disease
- Can lead to depression
- Contributes to mental illness
- Lowers life expectancy
On the other hand, when we express gratitude, laugh and smile, we produce dopamine, endorphins and serotonin in the body. Think of it as “free medicine,” which can:
- Lower stress levels
- Strengthen immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower heart rate
- Improve sleep patterns
- Improve creativity & focus
- Lower levels of depression
Can we be grateful even when things are not going well? It’s not easy—but it’s probably the most critical time in your life to find gratitude. What you regularly think about when things are not going well makes a huge difference. Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our thoughts away from the negative and into the positive.
You Can Change How You React
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react. You can’t change what happened but you can change how you think about it.
Thirteen years ago Barbara had breast cancer. She attended a presentation for pre-surgery patients and the doctors informed the patients that each patient was responsible for her own stress levels. They gave the patients a list of actions to take and at the top of the list was express gratitude and laugh more. The list also included 100 of the funniest movies ever made. Barbara and her husband watched one of those movies every night and throughout her treatment she expressed gratitude for all the help and love she received from family and friends.
Scientists are saying that it’s up to us to choose what we think about. How do we help ourselves when we’re stuck in a state of worry? Worry is a learned behavior and many of us waste much time in worry.
Over 40 years ago, Dr. Walter Calvert did research on the things we worry about and broke them down into categories:
- 30% worries about past events
- 40% worries about things that never happen
- 12% worries on unfounded health concerns
- 10% minor or trivial issues
In other words, only 8% of worries are real legitimate issues while 92% of our worry is over things that won’t happen or things we can’t change.
How can we balance out our worrying spirits? What worries are real and what are not? Do you live in the past or the future?
Too often we tell ourselves, “I’ll be happy when this happens” thereby putting too much emphasis on wishing for change. When we worry about the future, we’re crippling ourselves in the present. Learn to stay in the present moment because we can’t predict the future.
Philippa suggested that if you tend to be a worrier, designate a “worry session” for yourself for 15 minutes once in a day. That way you’ll know that if you catch yourself worrying, you can say: “I’m going to do all my worrying at noon!” Then you won’t let your worries dominate your thoughts throughout the day.
Barbara recommends writing down what you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal. Ask yourself three questions at the end of each day:
- What simple pleasures did I experience today?
- What was funny or silly about my day that I’m grateful for?
- What were some teachable moments in my day?
Tools for Bouncing Back
Barbara and Philippa ended their presentation by sharing some tools for bouncing back from difficult situations. When we’re under stress, our brain shuts down and our emotions take over. They suggest creating a “Resilience Tool Basket” to keep handy when things get overwhelming. Here are some of their tools for bouncing back:
- express gratitude and thankfulness
- laughter and smiling
- mindfulness and meditation
- be quick to reach out for support
- hang out with positive people
- loving pets and grandchildren
- positive affirmations
- walks in nature
- listen to music
Self talk is so important. You choose what you want to focus on. The more you look for things to be grateful for the better you’ll feel. If you really want to feel uplifted, check out this beautiful and touching short film by Louie Schwartzberg “How to Cultivate Gratitude from the Gift of Each Day.”