Let’s face it, the older we get the more likely we are to encounter loss, whether it comes to us through the death of a spouse or a close friend, the failure of a marriage, or the onset of disease. When life gets really hard, how can we avoid being irretrievably pulled into a black hole of sorrow and negativity?
Gratitude, that’s how.
No matter how dreadful life seems, acknowledging the goodness, however small it may seem, can lead to a happier and healthier life.
“So often, we take our blessings for granted,” says Lisa Ryan, a U.S.-based gratitude expert, the founder of Grategy (gratitude strategies) and the author of seven books, including The Upside of Down Times: Discovering the Power of Gratitude.
“When we acknowledge what we have – not what we don’t have – it changes your life. It changed my life.”
Research has shown being grateful has physical benefits. It strengthens your immune system, improves your heart health and can even help you sleep better.
“One study showed that for every five minutes you spend in anger it actually reduces your immune system efficiency for six hours,” says Lisa. “And for every five minutes you spend in compassion it elevates your immune system for the next six hours. Choosing positive thoughts over negative emotions has a very powerful effect on our bodies.”
1) Start a daily gratitude journal: “It doesn’t have to be pages and pages of journaling. Nobody has time to do that,” says Lisa. “Just write down five things you’re grateful for on a daily basis. When I started doing that in 2009, within a very short period of time I noticed substantial changes in my life.”
2) Recognize that gratitude takes practice: “Gratitude is like a muscle.The more you work on it, the stronger it gets,” Lisa points out. “And it’s not about waiting to win the lottery. Look in the average and the everyday stuff – where we take so much for granted. This is what strengthens our gratitude.”
3) Look at your relationships with others: “Express your appreciation for people while they’re on the planet,” says Lisa. “Be conscious and say more positive things to people you love – while there’s time and you can.” Being positive is potent. (Research shows, for example, that to have a strong marriage, for every negative thing you say to your spouse you have to say five positive things to make up for it.)