To say that 2020 has been a challenging year for most of us is a profoundly serious understatement. While itâ€™s easy to fall into quiet despair, now might actually be the best time to cultivate positive mental health habits, one of them being gratitude.
Paradoxically, suffering can yield a grateful heart, if approached with care and mindfulness. As reported by CNN Health:1
â€œIn his 1994 book, â€˜A Whole New Life,â€™ Duke University English professor Reynolds Price describes how his battle with a spinal cord tumor that left him partially paralyzed also taught him a great deal about what it means to really live.
After surgery, Price describes â€˜a kind of stunned beatitude.â€™ With time, though diminished in many ways by his tumor and its treatment, he learns to pay closer attention to the world around him and those who populate it
A brush with death can open our eyes. Some of us emerge with a deepened appreciation for the preciousness of each day, a clearer sense of our real priorities and a renewed commitment to celebrating life. In short, we can become more grateful, and more alive, than ever.â€�
Inspirational speaker and YouTube sensation Claire Wineland also embodied this truth. This lovely young woman died in 2018 at the age of 21 from a massive stroke following an otherwise successful lung transplant.2 Born with cystic fibrosis â€” a progressive and terminal genetic disease â€” she spent the bulk of her short life inspiring people to â€œlove what is,â€�3 to love every breath; to not waste life and to make a life that matters.
Start a Gratitude Journal
Enhancing your well-being can be as simple as taking some time each day to reflect on what youâ€™re thankful for. A simple and proven way of doing this is to keep a gratitude journal.4
In one study,5 participants who kept a gratitude diary and reflected on what they were grateful for just four times a week for three weeks improved their depression, stress and happiness scores. In another study, people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more and had fewer visits to the doctor.6,7 Indeed, thereâ€™s an entire field of study looking at the health benefits of gratitude.
For example, studies have shown it helps regulate stress by stimulating your hypothalamus and ventral tegmental area.8 It also improves your sleep,9 heart health10 and immune function,11 and boosts mental health by triggering the release of antidepressant and mood-regulating chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin.
Gratitude, or a generous attitude, is also neurally linked with happiness.12 Strengthen one and you automatically boost the other.
Save Not for Tomorrow the Joy You Can Feel Today
Thanksgiving Day is, of course, â€œtheâ€� day of the year when thoughts of gratitude linger in the minds of most Americans. Hopefully, you are spending this day with family and friends.
While many areas have issued pandemic restrictions for the holidays, banning large indoor gatherings and so on, I hope the plans youâ€™ve made are the result of your own conscience rather than fear of breaking some tyrannical rule (which the government leaders are likely to ignore themselves).
As I noted in â€œHow Would You Prefer to Spend Your Last Holiday Season?â€� we donâ€™t know how much time we have left, and for an untold number of people, this Thanksgiving will be their last. For most, relationships and human connection are the most valuable parts of life, and if â€œstaying safeâ€� means forfeiting that which matters most, what are we trying to save?
If for whatever reason you cannot join your near and dear ones, consider making good use of technology. Instead of a text or a phone call, you could use Facetime or Zoom for a virtual face-to-face. You could even set up a monitor at the end of the table and patch in family members virtually so you can talk while sharing your Thanksgiving meal in separate quarters.
What Iâ€™m Grateful for Right Now
I have much to be thankful for as I look back on this remarkable year, including my awesome staff, without whom this website would not be what it is. There are many editors, customer support, an IT tech team and great managers and administrators that make all of this possible.
You, my readers, are also at the top of this list. With censorship gripping us ever more tightly, we would not be able to get the news out without you. Since mid-2019, Google, Twitter and YouTube have all censored or outright banned nearly all of our articles and videos, forcing us to rely on you to share the information within your private networks.
Thank you for subscribing and forwarding these articles to others. Itâ€™s less convenient than it was before, which makes me all the more grateful that so many of you are taking the time and making the effort. One person, one share at a time, we are making an impact.
I often receive notes of thanks from readers, some of which are featured in the video above. Knowing that people are turning their lives around and regaining their health brings me great joy and satisfaction. My search for optimal health has been a lifelong journey, and I am thankful for all who walk this less-trodden path with me.
So many people struggle needlessly, having been fooled by the food and drug industries deceptive propaganda that, for decades have pointed everyone in the wrong direction. Today, more than ever, people are being misled by the technocratic propaganda machine that seeks to eliminate our freedoms in every respect.
Together, we are making a difference though. While itâ€™s certainly true that we still have a long way to go, in time, I believe truth and sanity will prevail. We just have to maintain a positive attitude and keep going, keep searching for the truth, and share it when we find it.
Tap Your Way to Gratitude
If the daily news steers your mind in unproductive circles and stirs your anxiety, consider unplugging and taking a holiday from it. The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can also be a helpful tool if you struggle with pessimism.
EFT is a form of psychological acupressure based on the energy meridians used in acupuncture. Itâ€™s an effective way to quickly restore your inner balance and healing and helps rid your mind of negative thoughts and emotions. In the video above, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for gratitude.
Practical Strategies to Strengthen Your Gratitude
Aside from EFT and journaling, there are many other strategies that can help you flex your gratitude muscle. Following are a diverse array of practices, recommended by various experts and researchers,13 that can boost your gratitude quotient. Pick one or more that appeal to you, and make a point to work it into your daily or weekly schedule.
If you like, conduct your own little experiment: Write down your current level of happiness and life satisfaction on a piece of paper or your annual calendar, using a rating system of zero to 10. Every three months or so (provided youâ€™ve actually been doing your gratitude exercise), re-evaluate and re-rank yourself.
Write thank-you notes14 â€” Make it a point to write thank-you notes or letters in response to each gift or kind act â€” or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life. Verbalize your recognition of the effort or cost involved and be specific.
Say grace at each meal â€” Adopting the ritual of saying grace at each meal is a great way to practice gratitude on a daily basis,15 and will also foster a deeper connection to your food. You donâ€™t have to turn it into a religious speech if you donâ€™t want to. You could simply say, â€œI am grateful for this food, and appreciate all the time and hard work that went into its production, transportation and preparation.â€�
Let go of negativity by changing your perception â€” Disappointment â€” especially if youâ€™re frequently struggling with things â€œnot going your wayâ€� â€” can be a major source of stress. Since stress is virtually unavoidable, the key is to develop and strengthen your ability to manage your stress so that it doesnâ€™t wear you down over time.
Rather than dwelling on negative events, learn to let things go. A foundational principle to let go of negativity is the realization that the way you feel has little to do with the event itself, and everything to do with your perception of it. Wisdom of the ancients dictate that events are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. It is your belief about the event that upsets you, not the fact that it happened.
As noted by Ryan Holiday, author of â€œThe Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living,â€�16 â€œThe Stoics are saying, â€˜This happened to me,â€™ is not the same as, â€˜This happened to me and thatâ€™s bad.â€™ Theyâ€™re saying if you stop at the first part, you will be much more resilient and much more able to make some good out of anything that happens.â€�
Be mindful of nonverbal actions â€” Smiling and hugging are both ways of expressing gratitude, encouragement, excitement, empathy and support. These physical actions also help strengthen your inner experience of positive emotions.
Give praise â€” Research17 shows that using â€œother-praisingâ€� phrases are far more effective than â€œself-beneficialâ€� phrases. For example, praising a partner saying, â€œthank you for going out of your way to do this,â€� is more powerful than a compliment framed in terms of how you benefited. Also, be mindful of your delivery â€” say it like you mean it. Establishing eye contact is another tactic that helps you show your sincerity.
Prayer and/or mindfulness meditation â€” Expressing thanks during prayer or meditation is another way to cultivate gratitude. Practicing “mindfulness” means that you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. A mantra is sometimes used to help maintain focus, but you can also focus on something that you’re grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze or a lovely memory.
Create a nightly gratitude ritual â€” One suggestion is to create a gratitude jar,18 into which the entire family can add notes of gratitude on a daily basis. Simply write a quick note on a small slip of paper and put it into the jar. Some make an annual (or biannual or even monthly) event out of going through the whole jar, reading each slip out loud.
Spend money on activities instead of things â€” According to research,19 spending money on experiences generates more gratitude than material consumption.
Embrace the idea of having â€œenoughâ€� â€” According to many who have embraced a more minimalist lifestyle, happiness is learning to appreciate and be grateful for having â€œenough.â€� When you buy less, you tend to appreciate each item more. The key here is deciding what â€œenoughâ€� is.
Consumption itself is not the problem; unchecked and unnecessary shopping is. Make an effort to identify your real, authentic emotional and spiritual needs, and then focus on fulfilling them in ways that does not involve material accumulation.