By: Antonio Stephens, Özemi Wellness Resident and Coach
The holiday season is a time of reflection, and for some that brings challenges. During this period, be mindful of the advances of humankind, the progress we’ve made collectively and those that have come before us making it possible for us to live and experience the world the way many of us do today.
Your journey to your mountaintop is yours alone. But, one thing we all share is the desire for real joy. Understand that experiencing joy is something you practice daily, and that begins with gratitude.
What is Gratitude and What are the Benefits of Practicing
Better up describes Gratitude as a conscious, positive emotional muscle that one can develop over time to express when feeling thankful for something, whether tangible or intangible.
A substantial amount of research highlights the value of training the mind to think positively and acknowledging the good things happening around and within us. Dr. Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology – a movement premised on encouraging an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity with the aim to improve quality of life – gave us the framework and key to authentic happiness.
High level findings across the positive psychology space:
- A meta-analysis on 49 studies in 2009 showed that Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI) produced improvements in well-being and lower depression levels, the PPIs studied included writing gratitude letters, learning optimistic thinking, replaying positive life experiences and socializing with others.
- The health benefits of positive psychological assets have been documented in different cultural settings. For instance, in Japanese culture, the most commonly used indicator of subjective well-being is the sense of “life worth living.” In a population-based prospective cohort study with 43,391 adults in Ohsaki, Japan, lack of the sense of “life worth living” was significantly associated with higher risk of all-cause mortality over time.
- In an experiment from 2007, researchers Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky examined the predictors and outcomes of regularly practicing the “counting one’s blessings” exercise and the “visualizing best possible selves” exercise and they found that these practices can lead to a higher quality of life, measured by affect.
- Research has also found that people who tend to be more grateful have more brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the area associated with learning and decision making.
Note: Research concludes that the application of positive psychology to health is promising but much work remains to be done.
Now that you have the background and context, it’s time to practice. As we fall deeper into the season of giving and reflection, what stands out for you? Despite your current circumstance or situation, know that you have the power to control your outlook on the world around you and your lived experience.
Saying thank you
This sounds so simple, but how often do we forget to do this? This is a great place to start your gratitude practice today. Saying thank you to those that support you in your life or make you feel positive emotions can have a ripple effect in how you make the individual feel. When I thank people, I prefer to send a handwritten note. The best option is to send flowers. But even just a text and phone call go a long way to show your appreciation.
Typically in my communication , I share what I’m thankful for and reference a specific event or moment that we shared. I reflect on how the individual made me feel as a result of their actions – or just how great it was to be together, indicating that exact positive emotion I felt. This exercise helps me cherish every moment, interaction, and encounter I have, knowing that none are guaranteed and are unique in some capacity to my personal lived experience on this earth.
Looking in the mirror
Though it may seem at times that the world around us is caving in and all hope may be lost, by simply looking in the mirror and recognizing that just the mere fact that you exist is a miracle and something to be grateful for can change your perspective and outlook on the life you’ve been granted. We know we still have many societal issues we need to tackle to ensure everyone has a “fair chance,” but by recognizing and celebrating your existence, that puts you in a place of power to take inspired action to create and develop the world you want to see and live in.
Embracing challenges and turning them into growth opportunities
Here’s the secret… as human beings, we all experience challenging and difficult times. All of us! I see so many people around me chasing this never ending bliss trip. Like everything that goes up, we must all come down. How far down you come is up to you though and is something in your control. The more you learn to check your ego at the door and develop the capacity to deal with challenging moments and situations, the easier it will be for you to navigate those moments and transcend them into learning and growth opportunities. I can’t promise you the first time going through something challenging will be easy, but I promise if you keep your head tall and take the time to reflect once you’re on the other side, you’ll find so much to be grateful for in the suffering that molded you into the next best version of yourself.
Journaling and nurturing the relationships in your life
Simply put, the best way to keep gratitude top of mind is to practice, practice, practice. Aside from what’s already been shared, this is an easy practice you can begin right now! Get a notepad, a pen and write down three things that went well today for which you’re grateful for. Repeat this daily and see how that affects your overall emotional and mental wellbeing. You can take it a step further and discuss this with a partner. You can also call a close friend to let them know what in your relationship you are grateful for and how that individual has shaped or changed your life. Do this and see how the quality of your relationships and the output of your interactions changes overtime.
My Pledge to Joy
In the U.S., we’re getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving and many will gather to feast, share stories and express gratitude for one another. As you pause to be with your loved ones, I ask that you take the time to reflect on the significance of this holiday and the dark shadow that lurks in the background. Many Indigenous people and Native Americans lost their lives in the face of this celebration and our history books haven’t covered the full story. For truth, source and knowledge, I am forever grateful.
While I sit with family members this week I am also grateful and thankful for who I am, what I say, think and do. I am thankful for all that I’ve experienced – the good, bad, painful and ugly; including love and losing people that were once dear to me. I recognize that all of these instances have shaped me to be the person I am today.
Most of all, I am thankful for my senses and my capacity and ability to synthesize the world around me – identifying the areas where I’m needed most to drive sustainable change for the future.
Wishing you all an incredible holiday period and can’t wait to speak to you again soon.
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