“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” – A.A. Milne, “Winnie-the-Pooh”
Lowered blood pressure, improved immune function, more efficient sleep, and reduced risk for depression and anxiety. All these benefits and more flow from practicing gratitude.
It’s that time of year where we practice giving thanks. But, as CSD’s Student Wellness Services Administrator B.J. Weller believes, it’s something we can and should practice year-round for others and for ourselves. “In any person’s life, if they want to feel more happy, have better mental health, have heathy relationships, better self-esteem, that’s all based partly in expressing gratitude and finding ways to show and feel gratitude and appreciation.”
Weller discusses the benefits of gratitude in the latest episode of Connect Canyons. Regularly focusing on the positive in your life, he says, is contagious — in a good way — and can help with your own mental health. “When you are feeling depressed or anxious, you start thinking about things you’re grateful for and all of a sudden, your body has a physical reaction from your brain and you naturally feel better when you’re doing something to help someone else,” Weller explains.
Many families come together for Thanksgiving and offer up what they are grateful for while sitting around the table. Weller recommends making it a part of our everyday routines. While tucking your children in for bed or getting ready for school in the morning, ask your children what they’re grateful for that day and share your own.
Starting a gratitude journal can help make gratitude a daily habit, says Weller, recalling a study by psychologists at the University of California and University of Miami. The researchers examined three groups. One group wrote about something for which they were grateful once a week, while the second group wrote about things that irritated or displeased them. Meanwhile, a third group simply catalogued the week’s activities and events. After 10 weeks, the group that focused on gratitude was more optimistic. They felt better about their lives in general, were exercising more, and had fewer visits to physicians.
Weller also says gratitude can help in moments of frustration. Maybe your child’s day isn’t going as hoped or is anxious about an upcoming sports competition. Encouraging your child to focus on what’s going well can help deescalate the situation and bring perspective.
Earlier this year, Weller was diagnosed with brain cancer and has undergone extensive treatment and surgeries. He says since August, he has experienced the most pain in his life. “However,” Weller says,” One of the things I was able to do was find ways every day to be thankful for something and try to be positive. It’s amazing how much that helped me through that trial of my life. I know everyone is going through something. Everyone has a trial they’re experiencing, and I think finding ways to show gratitude in spite of those challenges will ultimately help all of us work through that challenge in a much more healthy way and also maintain relationships.”
Weller says your list of things you’re grateful for don’t have to be profound. Whether you got a good night’s sleep, or you notice a good sunset, it’s about training your brain to identify things you’re grateful for.
“Life is all about living to our fullest potential and becoming the best version of ourselves,” Weller says, “Gratitude is a major, major part of helping us in that journey.”