If you have ever found yourself caught in a negative thought pattern and are just swirling downward, then today's video is for you! I'm going to talk about some surprising reasons why you might want to consider practicing gratitude all year round, rather than just on Thanksgiving.
The Benefits of Gratitude
In recent years, the research around the benefits of gratitude has just multiplied, and with the positive psychology movement, there’s a lot of research around all of the benefits of gratitude. These include things like:
Gratitude will boost your mood.
Gratitude will reduce your anxiety and depression.
It will help you sleep better.
It will relieve your stress.
It will improve your health in ways like lowering your pain levels, increasing your immune function, and lowering your blood pressure.
It will give you a boost in energy.
And it will also boost your self-esteem, mental strength, and resilience, which is what helps us bounce back after tragedy or stress or any kind of really traumatic event.
These are just some of ways you will benefit if you practice gratitude more regularly.
Gratitude Rewires Your Brain
How might you do this? Why does this work, you ask? Because practicing gratitude actually rewires your brain. Think of your brain like a group of muscles. The parts of your brain that are activated when you practice gratitude are just like the muscles in your hands or your arms or your legs. The more you work those muscles out, the stronger they get.
The same thing goes for this part of your brain. The more you practice gratitude and exercise this part of your brain, the stronger it gets and the more likely it is to recognize and seek out and find things that it's grateful for or that are positive in your life. It's basically priming your brain.
Gratitude Primes Your Brain For More Positivity
Have you ever learned a new word for the first time, and it's some word that you've never heard before. Then all of the sudden, you start hearing it everywhere! You hear it three times in a day, and you're like, “Wait a minute, how can this be? I just learned this word today, and all of a sudden, I'm hearing it all of the time.”
It's not that the word wasn't around you before. It's just that your brain wasn't primed to pick up on it. It didn't know what it meant and your brain wasn't looking for it. Once you've primed your brain to look for these positive things to be grateful for, then your brain is more likely to pick them out of a day, even if it's kind of a cruddy day, than it would have been before.
Gratitude Counteracts Your Negativity Bias
This intentional focus on gratitude and positive aspects of your life counteracts your natural evolutionary negativity bias. Our negativity bias ensures that part of our brain is scanning for things that might go wrong all of the time, because that information helps keep us alive, and it makes sure that we recognize, store away, and re-access negative information more easily than positive information. Because remembering that, that smell meant there was a lion nearby last time will keep us alive, whereas remembering the smell of that lovely flower doesn’t.
Gratitude practice helps even out the scales a bit and give us a more even-handed picture of our lives, rather than one that’s skewed towards the negative.
How to Practice Gratitude
What I'm going to teach you now is a little gratitude exercise that will help you achieve the benefits above. According to Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, if you practice gratitude every day for 21 days, it will significantly increase your optimism and they can actually measure the positive benefits six months later!
Now, I'm not going to say at the end of 21 days, you should stop. If it's working for you, by all means keep doing it. Just like a muscle, if you stop working it out, at some point it will atrophy and you will need to build it up all over again.
My invitation to you on this week of Thanksgiving is to start your gratitude practice now and see if you can keep it going so that you can get some of these benefits that I talked about.
Bright Spots Exercise
This exercise is called Bright Spots, and what I want you to do is at the end of each day, or maybe the beginning of a day if that's when your brain is fresher, whenever it works for you, but try to find a regular time to sit down, and I want you to write down three positive things in your day from each day. Now, that could be something little. It could be something big. It could be something that happened to you, or something that you did, a success that you had, something that someone else did for you, whatever it is. I want these to be three bright spots in your day.
Then I want you to think of and write about one of these three things for each of those bright spots.
What is it that brought that bright spot about? Was it three months of really hard work that you put in to finally have a successful project or a presentation? Was it the result of someone else going out of their way to be kind to you?
What does it mean to you or what will it mean in the future? Because this positive thing happened to you, what's that going to mean for you in your life?
How could you have or create more of this positive thing? Oftentimes we have a lot more control over the creation or what goes into these positive moments than we might think. Maybe somebody was kind to us because we've been kind to them in the past. Maybe we had that successful presentation because we worked our butt off for three months, etc.
So, write down your three bright spots that were positive from each day, and then think about what brought that about, what will it mean for you in your life, and how could you have more of it. You can just pick one of those three for each bright spot and write a little something about that. What that's going to help do is reinforce it in your brain.
If you’re still stuck in a negative thought loop…
Psychotherapy or Coaching Can Help
Now, if you find that gratitude practices are not enough for you or if you just repeatedly get stuck in negative thought patterns, first of all, I want you to know you're human and it’s normal for that to happen sometimes. And secondly, if you would like a little bit of extra help working with the negative thoughts or feelings, please feel free to reach out. I would love to chat with you about the challenges you are facing and help you come up with a plan to find more joy in your life again. Click the button below to set up a free consult call.
For more information on how gratitude, and other mindfulness practices, can help improve your mood, check out the Mindfulness page.