We all intend to focus on gratitude this time of year. But, do you ever feel like it’s just one more thing in your way-too-busy to-do list? Despite your best intentions, do you ever feel that you’re too overwhelmed to focus on gratitude? When you hear about a gratitude challenge, does it make you want to throw your hands in the air and say “I can’t do even more this time of year?”
I’ll admit, I sometimes feel overwhelmed in November. The Holiday Season can feel like a steamroller. But, you may still want to focus on gratitude. If so, we’ve got an abbreviated, 7-day gratitude challenge! This is not 1000 or 100 lines of gratitude…it’s just one week.
Ready to start? For the next week…
Your daily gratitude notes don’t have to be big stuff. They can be tiny snowflakes, a sunrise or sunset, a smile, your favorite pair of slippers, or the stars this time of year. Anything. It’s helpful if you keep a gratitude list or journal nearby throughout the day, so when you feel grateful, you can write it down.
This is where it might get a little tougher for some. But, you are wonderfully and fearfully made by a Creator who loves you. You can be thankful to Him for how He made you. Whether you want to identify actions (like how easily you’re optimistic), physical traits, or even challenges you face, this is your opportunity to be content and even grateful through it all. Write it down.
For most of us, this last is the toughest. During the week, write and send a gratitude message to someone in your life. Again, you don’t have to make this a big deal. Just a one-line text is okay. If you don’t know what to say, just tell them you’re thankful for them. If you’re brave enough, tell them why. This will get easier!
If after one week, this seems like a positive change in your life, keep going! Maybe you can keep it up through the end of the year. Maybe you can keep it up in 2024. If you miss a week, it’s okay. There’s no one grading you. This is just a way to see the world differently, spread gratitude, and even enjoy the health benefits discussed below.
Practicing gratitude reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, by up to 23% (1). What’s more, health care practitioners have sustained lower perceived stress (decrease of 28%) and depression by keeping a gratitude journal (2).
This is important. High, chronic cortisol levels are associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart health, and metabolic syndrome (3). Most modern stress is mental rather than physical. It’s caused by relationships, traffic, computer malfunction, and busy schedules. It’s not typically a physical threat. When internalized, it wages war on our body systems.
Gratitude can also:
Gratitude and optimism can actually improve your body’s response to disease. How?
Studies have found that our bodies produce more disease-fighting cells when we are grateful and optimistic (4).
What’s more, as we age our immune function declines, in part due to an imbalance in cortisol vs. dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). If we reduce chronic cortisol, we can maintain a healthier balance with DHEA levels and immune function (5).
Be thankful with a grateful heart. Amazingly, a grateful heart is a healthier heart.
In studies, gratitude is associated with better cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure and decreased heart rate variability. This all works together to improve cardiovascular health and overall health (4, 5).
A crucial factor in healthy aging is brain health. One crucial habit for brain health is sleep. As you practice gratitude, you improve sleep.
In fact, a study of 400 individuals, many of whom had sleep disorders, found that writing gratitude before sleep improves both the quality and duration of sleep (6).
In another study, gratitude was linked to a 10 percent improvement in sleep and a 19 percent decrease in depression levels in patients with chronic disease and insomnia (7).
Studies show that those who practice gratitude also tend to make healthier choices. Specifically, there’s an association between those who are reportedly grateful and less use of tobacco, more exercise, and better food choices (8, 9).
As a therapy, gratitude intervention shows promise when helping patients increase healthy habits. In one study, 31% of participants quit smoking and maintained abstinence after 6 months, compared to meta-analysis averages of 23% with a nicotine patch alone (10).
Can gratitude really improve longevity? As crazy as it sounds, yes!
A grateful heart can promote optimism, despite life’s circumstances. A recent study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where researchers from Boston studied if different levels of optimism are linked to longer lives (11).
Amazingly, the researchers found higher optimism scores were strongly linked to longer survival. The women with the highest 25% of optimism scores lived 15% longer than those in the lowest. The men with the top 20% of optimism lived 11% longer than men in the lowest 20%. The scientists accounted for variables to show statistical significance, including demographics, health conditions, and depression.
An amazing thing about gratitude? It’s the gift that keeps on giving. I believe if we spent a fraction of the time we spend on buying physical gifts on sharing gratitude with those around us, we’d be astounded at how it changes our lives. When you tell others you’re grateful for them, they will also feel a sense of gratitude. When you practice your own grateful attitude, it will spread. Not only can it change our own heart; it’s contagious.
Just one week. No further commitment. See if our 7-Day Gratitude Challenge changes your attitude. You have nothing to lose. You have an opportunity to give a truly meaningful gift to yourself and those around you. Let us know how it goes in the comments below!