Stones of gratitude - Exercise 2

Did you know that by practicing gratitude regularly, you can become healthier, happier, and more satisfied with your life? Try out this gratitude exercise and let it improve your mood and ease your anxiety.

1. Choose one thing you are grateful for in this moment.

2. Sit on a stone in front of you or get a yoga mat from the Old Forge building (Paja). You can also enter the Old Forge to do the exercise there if it’s open.

3. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out calmly while saying, quietly in your mind, “thank” on the inhale and “you” on the exhale to your object of gratitude. Notice how you feel in your body and mind.

4. Continue for a few minutes or for as long as you feel comfortable. If you want, you can stay on the stone or mat, breathe in peace and listen to nature. Keep the thing you are grateful for in mind for the rest of the day.

Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful mental exercises you can do. It has been found to be linked to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety,1 increased happiness and life satisfaction,2 better self-esteem and improved body satisfaction.3 It can make a difference in your physical health by positively influencing your sleep,4 reducing stress,5 and even lowering your blood pressure and calming your heart rate.6

How is it possible for such a simple exercise to be so efficient? The root cause of the mechanism can be found from the time when our ancestors had to survive in nature. Through evolution, our brains are used to detecting and remembering the most negative things, such as being left out of the pack, pain or loud noises, because they represent a threat to survival.7 Practicing gratitude sends the opposite message to the brain: I see good things around me, so I’m safe and don’t need to be afraid, anxious, or stressed.7 Your mind and body calms down, your muscles relax and breathing stabilizes. The senses are sharpened, and attention is better focused on the details of everyday life.

So, we can train our brain, shaped by evolutionary development, because it has the capability of plasticity, which means it can change throughout our lives.8 Our mind tends to notice the things we focus our attention on. If we only see negative things in our environment, the mind will continue to look for them. Instead, the more you practice gratitude, the more you strengthen the neural pathways in your brain that notice the good in your environment. The effect can be long-lasting!

You can practice gratitude in many ways in your everyday life. The essential factor shared by various exercises is tuning into the feeling of gratitude.6 Here are a few ways to do so:

1. Focus on a specific object of gratitude or just a feeling of gratitude, mentally saying thank you in the rhythm of your breathing. Repeat this whenever you want.
2. Gratitude diary: in the evenings, write down things that happened during the day you feel grateful for.
3. Observe your surroundings when you are out in nature and notice things that look, sound, or feel interesting and beautiful to you. You can also say thanks to these things in your mind.

+ As an additional exercise, write a letter to someone whom you would like to thank for something. Share your positive feelings by giving this letter to that person or just keep the letter for yourself.

1 Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A. (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: The mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and identity, 15(2), 191-205.

2 Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J. (2008). Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the five-factor model. Personality and individual differences, 45(1), 49-54.

3 Dunaev, J., Markey, C. H., & Brochu, P. M. (2018). An attitude of gratitude: The effects of body-focused gratitude on weight bias internalization and body image. Body image, 25, 9-13.

4 Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., Lloyd, J., & Atkins, S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of psychosomatic research, 66(1), 43–48.

5 Nezlek, J. B., Krejtz, I., Rusanowska, M., & Holas, P. (2019). Within-Person Relationships Among Daily Gratitude, Well-Being, Stress, and Positive Experiences. Journal of happiness studies, 20(3), 883-898.

6 Newman, D. B., Gordon, A. M., & Mendes, W. B. (2021). Comparing daily physiological and psychological benefits of gratitude and optimism using a digital platform. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 21(7), 1357-1365.

7 Burton, L. R. (2020). The Neuroscience and Positive Impact of Gratitude in the Workplace. The Journal of medical practice management, 35(4), 215-218.

8 Kini, P., Wong, J., McInnis, S., Gabana, N., & Brown, J. W. (2016). The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. NeuroImage (Orlando, Fla.), 128, 1-10.