When you’re overwhelmed or stressed out, it’s easy to miss the extraordinary gift of being alive. Practicing gratitude can shift your perspective.
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Many studies show that practicing gratitude provides us with a sense of overall well-being. It can also reduce depression and anxiety, lower our risk of disease, and flood the brain with feel-good chemicals like serotonin.
In the midst of my somewhat chaotic life, a daily gratitude practice helps me maintain a steady sense of calm and happiness. Here are five ways to build gratitude into your life:
- Keep a gratitude journal
I like pen and paper, but you may prefer a gratitude app for your phone. Reflect on the good things that are happening in your life first thing in the morning and again before bed. This will not only calm you; it will also help you sleep better.
- Reach out to say ‘thanks’
We all have someone who makes our lives better in some way. Call that person up or write them a letter to share how much they mean to you. It will make that person’s day (and yours, too).
- Support a great cause
Studies show that altruism improves well-being, health and longevity. To get those feel-good benefits, write a check to your favorite charity, volunteer for an organization you believe in, or help a neighbor or loved one with a task like grocery shopping. It will help you as much as it helps them.
- Eat mindfully
Your brain needs 20 minutes to register that your stomach is full. So eat slowly. Be aware of, and savor, your meals. Mindful eating is a potent tool for losing weight, improving your metabolism and cultivating gratitude.
- ‘Take five’
Before you eat — or whenever you’re stressed out — try this simple one-minute technique to better metabolize your food and lower your stress hormones:
- Take five breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Slowly count to 5 on each in-breath and out-breath.
The benefits of a gratitude practice will extend far beyond your health.
Gratitude will enhance the quality of your experience: your ability to be awake to what is real and true in each person you touch, in each moment you live, in difficult times and in happy ones.
By Mark Hyman, MD, Director, Center for Functional Medicine