Gratitude is a word that's thrown around a lot these days – but does it really make a difference? Does it help our happiness and lower stress? Yes! There have even been scientific studies on gratitude and how much it helps us in every area life. Here's my story of how I went from grumbling, complaining, and not happy with much in my life to really thriving and taking back control of my mental and emotional health.
With Thanksgiving upon us, this is a great week to talk about gratitude! These days, it can almost seem a little cliche to talk about it. It's a word that's thrown around a LOT, which I think is a good thing. But gratitude really is a powerful thing and it has helped my life as a mom, improving my attitude and happiness, reducing anxiety and worry, and helping me to be much more present with my kids and happier with my husband. In this episode, I share some gratitude research and how I've easily incorporated it into my life.
Links In This Episode
- $5 Gratitude Journal (it's really cute!)
- Creating a Natural Home and the Importance of Gratitude with Sarah UmmYusuf of NaturesNurture.com
- How I Broke Free of Complaining and Found Joy
- How I Found Emotional Freedom
- Scientific Study on Gratitude from the University of Berkley, and the Universities of Miami & California
- Podcast hub here on my blog
With Thanksgiving upon us, this is a great week to talk about gratitude! These days, it can almost seem a little cliche to talk about it. It's a word that's thrown around a LOT, which I think is a good thing. But gratitude really is a powerful thing and it has really changed my life as a mom, improving my attitude and happiness, reducing anxiety and worry, and helps me to be much more present with my kids.
So I did a little research on gratitude, with regards to scientific studies, and I was pleasantly surprised to see there have been quite a few studies done on it and it's affects on mental health.
Scientific Studies on Gratitude
Study with Thank You Letters
One study, by Berkley, followed 300 people for 3 weeks who were in a poor state of mental health, dealing with anxiety and depression.
They were randomly put into 3 groups – all 3 groups received counseling services. The first group wrote one thank you letter a week to another person, the second wrote about their negative experiences in life, and the third group didn't do anything but the counseling.
After one week, there wasn't much of a difference in mental health for any of the groups. But after the study ended, at 4 weeks, those who wrote the thank you letters reported significantly better mental health after 4 weeks and even better still at 12 weeks!
They also scanned their brains with an MRI to see if gratitude changed the way their brains worked, and it did! Listen to this:
Most interestingly, when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.
Study at the Universities of California & Miami
This study was done by two psychologists who are leading gratitude researchers (did you know that was a thing?) – Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. Here is a summary of the study:
One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation. (source)
And there are many, many other studies that have been done which you can quickly see in a good ole Google search!
How Gratitude Helped Me
When I became a mom, as I've shared with you before, those first few years were really tough for me. I was far away from home raising our first two kids. I think I might've had postpartum depression as I really struggled mentally after my first son was born. I was really struggling to enjoy being a mom and felt really guilty about it, of course. Good ole mom guilt! I just had no idea how lonely motherhood was going to feel for me and I had a sort of fairy tale expectation of what being a mother meant, and it obviously doesn't look like that in reality!
I developed a habit of complaining and though I didn't realize it at the time, I had really allowed myself to become a victim. Thinking my unhappiness was the fault of all of these things outside of me – being far away from home, being a stay at home mom, Kevin being at work all day, not getting to live out my my dreams and plans. Yada yada – I played the blame game really well.
I Became Excellent at Complaining
I used to complain all of the time – too many dishes to wash, the house is so dirty, so much laundry to do, never enough time to myself, we never have enough money, and it would go on and one.
So by the time our third son was born, I was introduced to the world of self help and personal development, something I hadn't known about even though I grew up in church, through my business with Young Living Essential Oils. I came across a video on conscious language, and for the first time in my life, learned that my thoughts and words have a lot of power. I'll never forget the lightbulb moment I had while watching that video – I knew this was my first step to becoming happier!
So I vowed to stop complaining, and I wrote a blog post on it which I'll link to in the show notes. But I knew that in order to change a habit, it really helps to replace it with a new one. So I started a gratitude journal and would do my best to write 3 things a day that I was grateful for – easy! 3 turned into 10, which turned into pages of gratitude a day. It made me feel soooo good! I would nag at my husband way less and appreciated him a whole lot more, and felt better about being a mom and my kids. My businesses began to succeed more, too. And doing household chores became a whole lot easier when I would tell myself – I am so grateful we have an abundance of clothes, and have a working washer and dryer, and running water.
After keeping a gratitude journal for about 3 weeks, I noticed that I was making mental thankful notes all day long. It really and truly did rewire my brain – the practice changed my thoughts and my perspective on my life changed drastically. Which improved my mood, happiness, peace – all of it!
Gratitude Gives Your Your Power Back
When we blame and complain, we are saying our control is outside of ourselves. I can't feel good until this happens, or until that person changes or does what I want them to do. I can't feel good because this is just the way I am, or because I'm sick, or because of my parents, or my childhood, or because someone took something from me.
When we think those things, we stay in victim mode and don't take charge of our lives. We live life on autopilot and struggle in pretty much every area of life. But what I've learned over the years is that we feel so much better, when we take responsibility or take our power back and realize that no matter what happened in our childhoods or our current circumstances, we have the choice NOW as adults about how we handle it, heal and move forward.
How Gratitude Helps as a Mom
I went from thinking I'd be happier if we could just move back home to realizing I could live anywhere and be happy if I'm grateful NOW, grateful today for what I have right in front of me. Then from that place if we still want to move, or change jobs, or schools, or whatever circumstance, we can still do that. But to know that the happiness comes from within first.
So as a mom, I have found gratitude to be soooo helpful with my kids. When I'm starting to feel frustrated with one of them, I get into a much better place when I think of what I love about them and their gifts. I have a better relationship with each of my them when I'm actively practicing gratitude – I can more easily tell them what I love about them, recognize and see their talents and gifts, and appreciate how much they are helping me to grow and be a better person. I'll even write down things specific to each child to help keep me in that good place with each of them.
When I start to get whiny and complaining, which still happens more often that I'd like, I know I need to go to bed earlier that day and to write in my gratitude journal. I can tell when I get off track now and thankfully, it's SO easy to get back on with a little gratitude.
How to Incorporate a Gratitude Practice as a Family
You can incorporate it into your prayers, or meditation, turn off the radio and do it in the car. We like to do it at dinnertime and each child says what they're thankful for – this is something Brene Brown does with her family and I loved it! Sometimes they say really silly stuff, like I'm thankful for my toes, and we're fine with that. I figure they learn from us how to do it and what it means and I know long term, it's making a difference. Don't make it too serious, especially if you've got little ones. Keep it fun and lighthearted and give them a safe space to say what they want. Teenagers may also not feel like sharing, and that's okay, too. I think it's most important for the parents to set the example and the kids will follow along in time.
So my challenge to you is – start a gratitude journal. Start by writing three things a day. You could even set a reminder on your phone – What are three things you're thankful for right now? And after 3-4 weeks of consistently doing this, watch and see how much your attitude, mood, and happiness changes. It is so easy, and yet so powerful!