There’s a lot to be stressed out about right now so it’s more important than ever to flex your gratitude muscles.
Practicing gratitude is like exercise for your brain. Every time you focus on being grateful for something or someone your brain gets stronger and you “grease the groove” of gratitude so it becomes easier and requires less effort to be grateful in the future. For my fellow finance nerds, that’s like compound interest on happiness.
Gratitude is a trendy topic right now so you’ve probably seen it touted everywhere from news articles to pithy t-shirts but it’s more than a passing trend. The benefits are well-researched and you’d be hard-pressed to find a condition that gratitude didn’t positively affect. It’s probably the easiest thing you can do to benefit your health.
Ooh That Feels Good!
Gratitude stimulates the parts of your brain associated with dopamine, which is a “feel good” neurotransmitter. Because it feels good to get a hit of dopamine, it’s a reward for your brain so your brain will encourage you to be grateful more so it will get another hit. (Yes, your brain is both the drug producer and consumer. Brains are super weird and cool.)
What Was I Just Thinking About?
Gratefulness is also a good distraction. You can only really focus on one thing at a time so if you’re stuck in a negative thought loop or obsessing about something that is harming you, being grateful can interrupt those thoughts and bring you back to being present and mindful. Sometimes that’s all it takes to realize you were brooding about something that isn’t actually important or that you can’t change.
Practice Makes…Practice Easier
Practicing gratitude actually changes how your brain functions, with long-term effects. Using fMRI scans, researchers have been able to show neurological changes that indicate that practicing gratitude makes your brain more sensitive to grateful thoughts which increases the positive impact of those thoughts. So gratitude not only gets easier with practice, it also gets more effective. (That’s the compound interest thing working.)
Big Results Come in Small Feels
To get the benefits of gratefulness, you don’t have to feel grateful for big things or even important things. You can be grateful for just about anything and get the same benefit.
A perfectly cooked egg. That you didn’t spill coffee on your shirt this morning. The warmth from the first rays of morning sun. Your favorite jeans.
It doesn’t matter as long as you really focus on and *feel* the appreciation, even for a few seconds.
Do It How You Want
Gratitude journaling is one of the most popular options for developing a gratitude practice. The nice thing about journaling is that when you’re not feeling so grateful you can look back and re-appreciate things you were thankful for in the past. It’s like a photo album full of happy snapshots of your life.
You can also just think about things you’re grateful for every day, either as a planned ritual or sporadically throughout the day whenever something strikes you. (Though you may need to make it a scheduled practice until it becomes a natural process for you.)
One of my favorite ways to practice gratitude though is to share it with others. If you have a partner, friend, or family member that you can share your gratitude with every day and have them share theirs with you, both of you will benefit from the good juju and you’ll strengthen your bond.