Gratitude. We hear about this notion all the time, especially in the month of November. Count your blessings! Remember what you’re grateful for! Give thanks! We hear about gratitude so much that it can start to sound trite, and we may tune out. I get it. And, I’m a realist. Gratitude probably doesn’t change everything, despite the alluring image. However, despite the word being tossed all about, the practice of gratitude can be legitimately helpful, especially for highly sensitive people.
First off, we have a ton of research now that validates this gratitude stuff. Studies from UC Davis have found that when people are writing down what they’re grateful for, journal-style, they report having fewer physical symptoms, feeling more positively about their lives, and being more hopeful about the future. They’ve also been found to progress more in personal goals and to be more likely to help someone else. Young adults practicing gratitude have been found to report more “alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy,” even though they experience similar levels of unpleasant emotions as those not practicing gratitude.
Gratitude has also been found to reduce anxiety and depression, strengthen the immune system, and lower blood pressure while also increasing our likelihood of exercising and taking care of our health. Additionally, gratitude has been show to improve relationships, making people feel closer, more connected, and more satisfied. People who practice gratitude have even been found to sleep better, not to mention feeling more joy and enthusiasm overall in their lives. Moreover, gratitude has been found to reduce aggression, increase empathy, improve self-esteem, and reduce overall stress.
Basically, gratitude seems to increase the things most of us want in life, and decrease several factors that we’d really rather not experience. Are you feeling convinced yet? I’ll toss one more perk your way—Elaine Aron’s research on HSPs has found that sensitive people tend to enjoy the benefits of positive experiences even more than non-sensitive people. So, it stands to reason that sensitive souls might be helped even more by gratitude than the general population.
And, here’s the best part—practicing gratitude can be so simple! Researcher and gratitude expert, Robert Emmons says gratitude has 2 parts:
Affirming that “there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
Acknowledging that “the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves,” meaning that other people, the universe, a higher power, human innovation, etc. has helped us have the things for which we’re grateful.
Sensitive one, you also don’t need to overthink this. A gratitude practice is as simple and as complicated as noting 3 things you’re grateful for every day. You can write these in a journal, tell a loved one, use an app, make notes in your phone, or just think about it. Some research shows it’s key to write down or express the gratitude; other studies seem to show that it’s the practice of gratitude itself that matters. I say, do what reasonably works for you.
This doesn’t need to be overwhelming or feel like “one more thing” on your list. You can even make it fun! I like to try to think of something unique about the day that I’m glad about, like I’m grateful I treated myself to my favorite chocolate milkshake, or I’m thankful that I didn’t have to wait on hold long with customer service.
What I really appreciate about gratitude is that it makes us shift our attention to what is positive. There can be a lot of noise and negativity in the world, and as HSPs, that really wears on us. Practicing gratitude reminds us of what is hopeful and even joyful. It redirects our focus. Like an outdoor guide once told me when I was scared of the trail we were mountain biking down, “focus your eyes on where you want your bike to go. Your body will follow your eyes.” Isn’t the same true about our lives? Don’t we move in the direction of our intent? So, let’s focus our hearts on gratitude.
I know I'm grateful for all of you.
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
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