Gratitude: showing appreciation and being thanks. Some would argue it is much easier to practice gratitude when you have a moment without worries, the sun is shining, the day ahead looks perfect, and all is well with the world. Practicing gratitude is not so easy, on the other hand, in the moments of overwhelm, when things feel out of control, when you feel like you want to scream from frustration, drop from fatigue or curl up in a ball and shut off the world. The good news is that gratitude is like a muscle, the more we practice flexing our gratitude muscle the stronger and easier the practice becomes regardless of external circumstances.
Bye-bye negativity bias
Our attention is constantly trying to decide where to go, we’re trying to figure out what to focus on and what to ignore, and we tend to focus more on the negative rather than the positive. From an evolutionary perspective, this actually served us well. Our brains have a negativity bias because focusing on the negative was considered a life saving measure. It was a way for the brain to keep us safe by being on alert and therefore better prepared to face danger. We’re essentially hardwired for negativity. The good news is that, since we are no longer in danger from the animals of the wild, we can rewire our brains for positivity by flexing the positivity muscle. One way to so this is through gratitude.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
In a white paper titled, “The Science of Gratitude” (2018), The Greater Good Science Center identified several benefits related to gratitude, including:
- Enhanced well-being and positive emotions
- Increased life satisfaction and less burnout
- Improved relationships, increased humility and patience
- Enhanced optimism and reduce materialism
- Reduce fatigue and better sleep
- Improved physical health
- Reduced levels of inflammation at the cellular level
- Greater resiliency
Gratitude leads to increased levels of positive emotions such as happiness, enthusiasm, love, optimism and joy. These psychological health benefits can in turn promote physical health because grateful individuals have a commitment to overall health. Gratitude enhances self-esteem, increases prosocial behaviour and builds healthy relationships.
How do I practice gratitude?
A gratitude practice shouldn’t be complicated or time-consuming. Making it a chore will be a sure-fire way to sabotage before you even begin. Try one of these gratitude rituals to build your gratitude practice daily:
- Sharing gratitude for someone or something at mealtimes
- Gratitude notes to loved ones in lunch boxes
- Gratitude notes to yourself on the bathroom mirror
- Meditation and present-moment gratitude practice
Meditation and Present-Moment Gratitude Practice
You can do this as part of your meditation practice or at any moment during the day.
Step 1: Notice
The first step in engaging in a gratitude practice is noticing. Notice where your thoughts are, and the feelings associated with those thoughts. Are they positive or negative?
Step 2: Focus attention on the positive
No matter what is happening in life there are always reasons to be grateful. Focus on the multitude of things you have, what is going well in your life, the people and experiences that nourish you. Notice the things that you would typically take for granted.
Step 3: Cultivate the positive emotions
Focus on the feelings associated with these positive thoughts and experiences. To make that shift, to focus on the positive, means flooding our bodies with more positive energy, which changes our brain chemistry and leads to better health and greater happiness.
Gratitude journalling can help get us into the positive mindset and that feel-good, expansive place by intentionally focusing on things for which we are thankful. It helps us to see the numerous gifts in our lives. Your list could include the feel of the sunshine on your face, the cute puppy you passed on the road, the feel of your heartbeat, childhood memories (the fact that you have a working memory is something for which to be grateful).
The objective is not to fill a notebook with gratitude but to intentionally FEEL THE FEELING of gratitude. Start with 3-5 things you are grateful for each day and in no time, you’ll find your list will grow exponentially. Stop and intentionally FEEL the emotions as you write each entry. My daily gratitude list is quite long every morning, and the majority of the items are the same every day, which is fine. The point is not to have an endless list but to get into the positive energy, consciously feeling the gratitude of each item as you write it.
A gratitude practice doesn’t make life all sunshine and rose petals. The crap still happens, but you begin to see more and more of the blessings in your life, and moments become more precious. The more gifts you recognize and identify the brighter your light shines.