"Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude." - Ralph Waldo Emerson At this time of year, most of us gather with our loved ones, share a special meal and thank those that prepared it. But how many of us go further and truly express our thanks for those around us, or reflect on life's positive aspects on a regular basis? What impact does this have on our overall health?
Research shows there are significant health benefits to "counting your blessings." Showing our gratitude in different ways can enhance both our creative and problem solving abilities, reduce negative psychological mindsets, lower blood pressure, strengthen coping mechanisms, foster positive social relationships at home and work, and decrease loneliness.
Gratitude also has a positive effect on selfconfidence, self-worth and self-esteem, and can even lead to better sleep and stronger immune systems. While our motivation is well-intended, starting a regular gratitude practice has the potential to lose steam over time.
Donating to a charity or paying kindness forward are two of the ways we typically show our care and compassion.
There are creative alternatives that can express our gratitude in a tangible way while reaping its health benefits:
1. Gratitude journal: each day, write down five things you are thankful for. Review them each week. Yes, this is a common suggestion, but research shows that reflective writing can help us to better cope with negative events in our life and helps us digest our concerns by putting things in perspective.
2. Gratitude crafts: use small river rocks, a tree branch or even a pumpkin as a place to record personalized messages of what you are thankful for. Having them on display provides a regularly reminder of the blessings in your life.
3. Make a short video and send it to brighten someone's day. This is a neat way for children to be included in showing gratitude to others and to connect with loved ones near and far.
4. Use your creative talents: if you are drawn to visual arts, make a collage, handmade card or even an e-card to express your appreciation for someone special. You could write a poem or song; record, sing or play music for someone; or use your culinary skills to show your appreciation. Everyone has something to offer the world and when it comes from the heart, gestures speak louder than words.
5. Meditate: a regular period of stillness, or being mindful and attuned to our surroundings, is proven to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Get outdoors, take deep breathes in and out. Notice the trees, changing leaves, sound of birds and the wind. Alternately, to begin or end your day, try this five-minute heart meditation: sitting comfortably, quietly take a few deep breaths. Place your hand on your heart and close your eyes. Take five deep breaths and focus on the feeling of gratitude. Notice how your body feels. Then do the same with the feeling of joy, compassion, love and empathy. It is amazing how our body changes. Meditation opens the mind and gets your creative juices flowing.
Extending gratitude, thanksgiving and compassion to yourself and others is just one way to practice self-care and the care of others using your creativity.
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." - John F. Kennedy