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Giving Thanks Boosts Happiness: Advice from Cory Muscara

This just in - Thanksgiving is almost here! The one day we’re reminded to give thanks for all the good in our lives. Over gravy and a 20 pound turkey, naturally.

 

This week, we have a lot to be grateful for at 6 AM Health. For starters, we got to interview Cory Muscara on the benefits of gratitude. For those who may not be familiar with Cory yet – this was like interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson on astrophysics. Or Cookie Monster on cookies.  

Cory is down-to-earth and practical. And our favorite part? He cares about the science behind it all.

Which brings us to the theme of today’s post:  

Giving thanks is scientifically proven to make us happier.

Okay back to gravy and turkey (and a dash of neuroscience). Thanksgiving is the one-day a year we’re reminded to give thanks. But, did you know, practicing gratitude year-round can actually improve both our mental and physical health?

Bear with us for a second - we know how ‘practicing gratitude’ might sound at first. Maybe a little trite. Ambiguous. Kitschy. You might be wondering: what does ‘practicing gratitude’ even mean?

BUT. Hear us out. Because this gratitude thing – it’s the real deal. It’s been demonstrated to positively affect us in so many ways from making us happier in our relationships, to combating depression, to helping us sleep better at night.   

 

So what does ‘practicing gratitude’ mean?

In the simplest terms, practicing gratitude is all about learning to focus on the positive things in your life.

To quote the great Charles Dickens: “Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

You see the thing is, it takes practice to focus on our blessings over our misfortunes.

Why is that?

It all comes back to science:

 

Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative

Evolutionarily speaking, our brains have become hardwired to focus on the negative things in our lives much more than the positive.

In the land of psychology, this phenomenon is called ‘the negativity bias’.

The negativity bias basically states that our more anxious ancestors – those prone to negative thinking- were also those less likely to enter a mysterious dark cave or try to befriend a wild animal. So, they also happened to be those more likely to survive. And then procreate. And then pass those charming anxious genes onto all of us.

The good news is this: we can rewire our brains. It just takes some effort. Some time. Some practice.

Which is what we mean by ‘practicing gratitude’. It’s all about retraining your brain to pay more attention to the positive things in your life. This can cause you to feel more appreciation, and in turn, less anxiety.

 

How do we do this?

Let’s defer to the expert:

3 Tips From Cory Muscara: How to Realistically Fit Gratitude Into Your Life

  1. Don’t feel like you have to force gratitude. Pick the low-hanging fruit.

We’ll start with our favorite piece of advice in Cory’s own words:

“It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t feel like you have to force gratitude. You want to avoid the feeling like ‘ugh, now I have to bring this other thing into my life’. It’s counter to the intention. Don’t try it on as another mechanical to-do. Don’t force it. Start where you feel a natural sense of gratitude. Think: what’s the low hanging fruit in my life? It might be your kids or the roof over your head. Or it might just be that you’re in a bathroom and there’s toilet paper there.”

  1. Keep a gratitude journal.

Write down three things in your life that are going well each day. This one seems so simple, and yet research suggests it can have remarkable positive impacts on our mental and physical health.

  1. Put sticky notes in different parts of your home.

Our lives are busy. It’s easy to feel motivated and excited about picking up a gratitude practice the first few days. But then, life gets in the way, and that motivation dissipates or – well – you just kinda forget. Cory suggests writing different things you’re grateful for on sticky notes and leaving them throughout your house, your car, or even at work.

Not only will this help you stick to the habit, but think of it this way:

Scientists believe the act of focusing on the things we appreciate in our lives can cause hormonal effects – actual physical changes in our brains - that make us feel better. Hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Aka the ‘feel good hormones’. 

So any time you see a sticky note – you’re triggering a positive physical response in your body that will make you feel happier.

Now what better time than Thanksgiving to share some new tips with your friends and family on how to integrate more gratitude into our lives!

Happy Thanksgiving friends!

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