In previous blogs we’ve discussed the importance of gratitude for mental health. Gratitude is the sense of thankfulness we have for things that enrich our experience of life. We can express gratitude to others for meals, hospitality, a favor - but it’s equally important to express it to ourselves.
We can do this by noticing things we appreciate and then realizing how grateful we are to have them. That flow from appreciation to gratitude is key in being able to feel it ourselves, and incorporate it into our lives.
The science behind this lies with a neurotransmitter called oxytocin which is created by our brain. This naturally occurring chemical is produced when we have feelings of trust, empathy, even getting a hug from someone is known to cause a release of oxytocin. It’s been acknowledged by scientists that oxytocin plays a huge role in human social interaction.
So we know oxytocin triggers and improves feelings of wellbeing. But there’s a lot less of it going around these days: all the stress from the pandemic, the social distancing…we don’t see as many hugs as we once did.
How can we get more of this stuff?
Sometimes people may have a natural tendency towards gratitude because of how they were raised. Parents can teach their kids about being grateful, and these lessons translate into a lifetime habit.
Devon, a young man in his 20’s with a healthy mode of gratitude, shared his thoughts on the subject. It took a hard road for him to develop this trait.
“I don’t think that I have always had the amount of gratitude that I have today,” he said, “I believe that it came out of the limited experience I have so far.”
Watching his mother battle cancer changed him. She persevered and is still alive today, but the impact this had on Devon helped him to realize all he has to be grateful for. His mother never lost her own sense of gratitude, and Devon took note of it.
“She is, in my life, the most grateful person I’ve ever known,” Devon said of his mother.
Lessons to learn
What Devon learned from this and other experiences is to look at others who have less good fortune, less wealth, and less luck in this world and take notice of their gratitude. Whether traveling, taking care of a sick loved one, or just looking around us, we can always find examples of people in a rough spot still being thankful for what they have. This can really influence someone’s perspective.
Another thing Devon suggests is paying attention to things outside of one’s self - to get engaged with the world. Go for a walk, talk to someone, go “exterior” instead of “interior.”
“I’ve always found this to help me when I just need a reset, when I need perspective,” he said.
Devon grew up with very grateful figures in his life helping to raise him and setting examples. Others may not be so lucky, but gratitude is something that can always be learned, developed, and cultivated.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
Have you ever noticed gratitude can be contagious?
Do you notice that being around upbeat happy people seems to rub off on you? One way to learn gratitude is to take lessons from others. If we surround ourselves with positive people and influences we start to integrate into that way of being. This is one effective way to keep our gratitude levels up: spend time with people who inspire it!
Some other helpful tips:
Develop a positive attitude. If we stay upbeat, proactive, and aware of our moods and emotions we gain control over the way we tackle problems in our mind. It’s up to you to notice the gratitude you feel for the food you eat, the friends you have, and the beauty of nature.
Fake it til you make it. Even if it’s a really bad day and the gratitude isn’t right at your disposal, you can still try to notice what you have. Tell yourself “at least I tried!” and know that sometimes trying is enough.
Do things for others. One way to increase gratitude is to be helpful to those in need. When you feed the poor, donate to a good cause, or talk with a struggling loved one it really shifts our perspective. We can be grateful for what we have and the ability to help those in less fortunate positions.
Sometimes we all need some extra guidance, and it helps to reach out to a mental health professional. Bregman Medical Group has decades of experience treating a variety of disorders. We offer online and in-person psychiatric and therapeutic treatment. Schedule your appointment today at www.bregmanmd.com or call 786-321-4909.