Gratitude is a term that is familiar to all of us. Most of us practice it on a random basis when things are going well – when we get the promotion, on a beautiful fall day, or when our skinny jeans fit. We practice gratitude when we say thank you to someone for his or her kindness. Under positive conditions, feeling grateful is simple. What if we could train ourselves to focus on this concept when life isn’t going our way? Can the simple act of counting our blessings improve the overall quality of our lives?
Positive psychologists conclude that it can and have gathered a slew of research on the benefits of practicing gratitude. Here are just a few of the findings:
• Reduces stress and anxiety which improves our mental/physical health
• Increases happiness levels in all areas of life by blocking negative emotions
• Promotes compassion which enhances our connections with others
• Increases feelings of self-worth
(If you would like more information on the above, I highly recommend any of Shawn Achor’s books.)
Incorporating a practice of gratitude when life is not all rainbows and unicorns is a challenge for all of us. As a species, we are hard wired, for survival purposes, to find the negative or potential threats in our lives. To override this default setting, we need to practice gratitude on a daily basis until it becomes habitual. Neuroscience has proven that we can actually “rewire” our brain, in a short period of time, by becoming more aware of and appreciative of the good things we experience. (The Buddha’s Brain, by Rick Hanson, PH.D. is a great read on this topic.)
The best news is that these results can be acquired just by writing down 3 – 5 things we are grateful for each day. It doesn’t matter if a beautiful journal or a Starbucks napkin is used; the key point is to make it a daily practice. Not a fan of writing things down? Thinking about or stating the gratitude list out loud can achieve the same results.
Building on this foundation of a daily practice, we can start applying gratitude to difficult times. I am not suggesting that we try and feel happy about not getting the promotion or gaining 10 pounds. Life is a serious of ebbs and flows, up and downs, that are often out of our control. Applying gratitude won’t change this. It will, however, soften the edge of trying times, refocus our thoughts on what we have and propel us back to the surface more quickly. The next time life throws a curve ball your way (or a really bad hair day ☺ ) ask yourself the following: What is good, or even humorous about this situation? Have I overcome obstacles like this before? What is a potential lesson here?
Thankfully, with practice and a determination, we can all learn to shift our perspectives and reap the benefits of viewing our circumstances through a lens of gratitude.
Be you. No apologies.