When you give thanks, you’re better off.
Sounds counterintuitive, right?
But really when you thank another person (and mean it), there’s a whole smorgasboard of happy chemicals suddenly bouncing through your mind.
Researchers generally study three kinds of gratitude and their lovely happy effects:
1.) There’s gratitude as a trait or disposition inherent in a person.
2.) There’s gratitude as a mood, going up and down over the day.
3.) There’s gratitude as an instance, for example, thanking someone for saving your spot at the barre.
Researchers find that people with a gratitude trait or disposition tend towards better physical and emotional health, and greater resilience to tough times. Often this trait comes from a social environment promoting gratitude. Gratitude as instances is shown to have a positive impact on psychological health, but not proven to have significant effect on physical health.
That’s not bad news though if you don’t have a gratitude practice or feel like gratitude is one of your traits or social environment. Like anything, gratitude as a trait can be cultivated through instance gratitude. After all, you didn’t start performing on stage without any practice. You spent years at the barre learning steps until dancing became natural.
So how do you, well, get grateful?
It’s easy enough to say “thanks” a few times, but making a practice of gratitude is just like doing everyday exercises. You got to do it every day.
You might have heard of a “gratitude journal” where you write ten things you’re grateful for every day. Ten can honestly be a lot starting out though, and it’s better to start small to feel accomplished and work your way up. Writing three things you noticed each day in a journal, or even writing one a day and putting them in a jar, so at the end of the month, you have thirty memories of gratitude. As a moment at the end of the day, this is a great way to collect your thoughts for better memories and preserve the good. Personally, I write my three gratitude moments of the previous day in the morning, so I can remember what lessons I learned and want to carry into the present day. Challenge yourself a little with your lists by not writing the same thing twice.
If you want more in the moment gratitude, setting a few timers throughout the day and finding something you are grateful for when each timer goes off can make gratitude an integral part of your day. Researchers have also followed writing gratitude letters, such as to people you haven’t fully thanked for their role in your life also fosters a gratitude mindset with lasting effects.
Ok, that’s great, but what about how this relates to my dancing?
Gratitude isn’t going to give you the perfect plié or arabesque. But it will help you to find small pockets of meaning in your every day. As a dancer, you’re spending the majority of your time with the same people in a constant routine. Day in, day out, everything can blur together. When you practice gratitude, you’re not only bringing a more positive mindset to your every day, you’re also bringing more presence to every day by continually noticing new moments of gratitude.
Like any discipline or practice, gratitude takes time. As you slowly notice more and more moments, your mindset will shift and gratitude will become a part of your traits. With a mindset of gratitude, you notice the good and the bad still, but the good takes the forefront and becomes what you remember. Gratitude makes everything a little softer and a little easier to start every day.
The Science of Gratitude. 2018. Greater Science Good Center. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf