Building a health care company, especially one that’s radically shifting the way medicine is practiced in our country, comes with a lot of ups and downs. There are the hard moments when I need to make difficult decisions, and there are the big, rewarding, exciting moments when I can hardly believe my team and I are creating such an incredible company and changing the lives of so many people. For all of the moments, big, small, difficult, fun, proud, and downright humbling, I am grateful.
But why does gratitude matter? For me, it comes down to feeling more balanced, energized, focused and clear. When I change my expectations to appreciation, I automatically feel more empowered and in control.
There’s also research to back up the benefits of gratitude. In one study, gratitude predicted greater sleep quality and duration. Another study from the NIH even found that people who showed more gratitude overall had greater activity levels the hypothalamus, a region of the brain involved in everything from metabolism to emotions and sex drive.
But practicing gratitude doesn’t always come easy. After all, that’s why it’s called a practice. Over the years I’ve learned to practice gratitude in a few different ways. Here’s what works for me:
1.Start a gratitude journal.
Before you write this off as too woo woo, listen to this: When researchers asked a group of people to journal about either negative events or hassles, things for which they were grateful, or neutral life events over ten weeks, the group that expressed their gratitude reported greater wellbeing.They were more optimistic about the future, felt better about their lives and they even did almost 1.5 hours more exercise a week than those in the hassles or events condition.
- Spend time with loved ones.
The people you spend the most time with are the greatest reflection of who you are. (And their state of emotion actually rubs off on you, science confirms.) Do you choose people who lift you up? Give you strength? Inspire you? When I surround myself with these types of people, instead of ones who unintentionally pressure me into an inauthentic version of myself, I am reminded of just how much gratitude I have for them.
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- Do a body scan.
So much of our time is spent staring at screens, sitting down, and requiring constant stimulation from our external environment. A body scan is a way to connect back to your body and untether from the rest of the world. It’s a form of meditation that I like to use when I need a reminder of all the amazing things that my body can do, from healing itself to moving pain-free. Body scan meditations lead to a boost in happiness and lower anxiety when compared to a control condition.
- Get out into nature.
I love living in New York City and am truly grateful for all of the opportunities and amazing people that the city affords. But I’m most reminded of just how vast and incredible the world is when I’m in the quiet outdoors, observing natural beauty.
That’s why I try to head upstate and out of the city with my husband, son, and dogs whenever I have a free weekend. We spend time walking through the woods, playing tennis outside, gardening in the summer and breathing in the fresh country air. After just a few hours, I feel calmer and more grateful, and it’s not just in my head—spending time outside can actually lower the stress hormone cortisol, decrease sympathetic nervous activity, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate.
- Focus on contribution
Happiness and pleasure are not the same thing. Happiness isn’t taking something in, rather, it’s having something to give. Whether it’s donating to a cause you feel strongly about, volunteering your time to help others, doing a random good thing for someone without asking, voting if you’re lucky enough to live in a democracy, or just speaking out and making your voice heard, these acts can help you reflect on all of things you have to be grateful for. A one time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10 percent increase in happiness and 35 percent reduction in depressive symptoms, found research.