Our Season of Gratitude

It’s National Gratitude Month – so please join me tonight at 6pm PST to discuss how the super-simple expression of gratitude can be used to dramatically improve your mental wellness.

During these high-stress holiday months (and even more so in the age of COVID), it might be helpful to remember that one of the most-studied and most-effective ways to calm anxious thoughts, alleviate depression, and stimulate mental fitness is to express gratitude.

While expressing gratitude can be effective any time, it seems to be particularly effective as a regular nighttime routine before turning in for bed. The “trick” with a regular nightly gratitude practice is to “think small” – because expressing gratitude for the “little things” is a proven way to focus our minds away from negative thoughts and ruminations on problems, toward positive emotions and joy. 

Little things might include your gratitude that you have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head; it might be the snoring dog on the floor; it might be that funny text you got from a friend, or the cat video that you saw online; it might even be that this shitstorm of a day is over and you have a “re-do” coming in eight hours. 

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” might sound hokey – especially when you have a lot of crap to deal with every day – but among all the research into psychological well-being, this is the technique that rises to the top again and again as being the most effective – and simplest to implement – to help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression, while also improving myriad aspects of physical health and mental fitness, including sleep quality, which we delve into in the next section.

Why Does “Expressing Gratitude” Work So Well?

It is important to understand that our brains are actually wired to be more attuned to negative experiences than to positive ones. This “negativity bias” is why we can feel terrible after hearing a dozen compliments or getting numerous likes—and then a single complaint or rejection can ruin everything. Some studies have shown that we need three positive experiences to counteract each negative emotion—and that is just to keep us in a neutral emotional state. As such, one very effective technique is to try to create a daily diet of happy micro-emotions by using mindfulness techniques and gratitude moments sprinkled throughout the day to continuously buffer the negative emotions that come at us on a regular basis. (I personally use the reminders to stand and breathe that my Apple Watch sends me throughout the day to quietly express gratitude for little things, such as the cup of coffee I might be enjoying, the sunny day, or my goofy dog.)

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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