In case you aren’t sure how to change up your regular daily habits and do something special in your day, consider a gratitude practice. We all go on auto pilot in our lives, and sometimes that automatic way of going about life lacks a sense of being grateful for what we have. We often forget that there are many things, big and small, that we take for granted and, instead, focus on the things we don’t have that we perceive would make our lives better. More money anyone? Better health? Sure, we’d all like that, among a host of other things! However, in the meantime, while on your way to more money and better health, consider adding gratitude to your day. There is a large body of research on gratitude that points to a host of positive benefits such as having a happier, more positive outlook, greater optimism and happiness, and greater joy and pleasure in your life. Among the physical benefits, you may experience lower blood pressure, sleep better, and boost your immune system. People who practice gratitude also seem to be more helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving. Expressing that gratitude increases your benefits. Who doesn’t want that?
So how does this look in the real world? In your daily life? Feeling gratitude in your life takes no extra time, but it does require effort. Many of us have to work at it, since we all experience what is called a negativity bias. Our brains evolved to keep us alive and to be vigilant to anything that might threaten our survival. So, waaaay back in the day, if you saw a saber-toothed tiger, you brain, ever alert, shouted RUN! That same brain today is still on red alert, but now the perceived threats are not life threatening. They are more in line with thoughts such as, I have too much to do and I’ll never get it done! Oh no, that last comment to my boss was really lame! Nobody liked my last post, and it’s already been an hour! You get my drift. It’s endless. Our brains are simply more reactive to negative than positive thoughts and events. In fact, Rick Hanson, a leading researcher on positivity, sums it up as “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” We are, literally, hard-wired toward negativity and fear. While there are real threats to our safety at times, and I don’t propose that you ignore that, but realize that a hypersensitivity to perceived threats over small things is not healthy. There are many ways to address this tendency and to calm the reactivity. Today, I am focusing on gratitude as one positive step in changing this negative focus.
Imagine having fewer negative thoughts and feelings, and feeling positive more often.
You can begin by simply appreciating the good things in your life. You can start today by noticing and being grateful for any of the following:
Someone holds a door open for you. Someone smiles at you. A driver lets you in a long line of traffic (that’s something to take note of!) Instead of being irritated that you got stuck at a red light, remind yourself that you are grateful that you have the ability to drive and take a deep breath and feel that gratitude. Notice that you don’t have a toothache! We tend to forget that we are doing quite well until we aren’t! Appreciate your relative health.
Keeping a gratitude journal or even a list is one of the best ways to practice bringing gratitude into your life and it multiplies the benefit. At the end of each day, write down three things you are grateful for. I know this isn’t always easy. In my life I have days where I think, Are you kidding? Grateful? But because I have been practicing this for some time now, I know from experience that it is good for me and for others to keep at it. On those tough days, I read back over my list and see that there are, indeed, many things in my life to be grateful for in my day. If you find it difficult to write 3 things each evening, you can start by listing 5 things once a week. Consider doing this on WHENsdays, knowing that you are increasing the good in your life and the happiness in others by following this practice.
Nancy Friedman, Chief Being Officer