Each time I practice gratitude in my life, I see such a powerful positive difference that it makes me want to share my experience with you.
If you are a bit like me, it is easy for you to see the bad in yourself, your loved ones, and your life in general. I can see negative aspects in all areas of my life in a flash, and from an evolutionary perspective that makes sense.
Your brain’s number one job is to keep you alive and well, so anything that is “negative”, or a threat to your wellbeing, your brain is very interested in.
The by-product of your brain’s great survival strategy is an increase in negative emotions – depression, anxiety, and envy.
To counteract that natural tendency, you can practice cognitive flexibility by challenging your brain to see all that is good and all that you like in yourself, in your relationship, in your children, your job … your life in general.
You can do that by stopping once a day (or any time your brain gets stuck on the negative) and write down – or say out loud – 5 things you love about your life. If you have a hard time finding those things, then you are looking “too big” and you need to “look smaller”.
Like, getting up in the morning and being able to walk to the bathroom without problems, having arms that can hug, fingers that can feel the texture of a silky scarf, feeling the sunshine on your face, the smell of coffee in the morning, the vibrant color of a green leaf.
You will see when you become intentional, stop regularly, and refocus your attention on all that is good in your life, you will actually feel better – joy, gratitude, and satisfaction will become your roommates.
The reason for this is that whatever you focus on, expands in your brain. If you focus on all that is lacking in your life, then your experience will be one of a “lacking life”.
However, if you focus on all that is good in your life, then your experience will be that of an “abundant life”. Whatever you appreciate, appreciates.
That’s amazing and puts a ton of control over your mental wellbeing into your hands!
If you can’t see the good in your life and within you today and be happy and content with what is, then it is highly unlikely that you will be able to do that in the future. Research in the field of Positive Psychology has found that happiness and contentment have less to do with life circumstances, and more with what you focus on.
Positive Psychology, which focuses on finding out what makes people happy, has found that people have a “happiness baseline”. When something good happens, they feel a short burst of happiness, but then return to the happiness level they have been at previously. Learning to regularly shine a spotlight on all that is already good in your life raises your happiness baseline.
I love the short movie released by Brother David Steindl-Rast called “A Grateful Day”. In it, he invites us to see each day as a gift and focus on all the wonder it brings with it. In his wisdom, he encourages us to live each day as if it “was our first day, or our last day”, alive to all the beauty it brings. To focus on all the good there is, and through that, practice gratitude.
I believe there is an infinite amount of goodness around us all the time, but it only exists if you can see it. The practice of gratitude allows you to get in touch with the abundant life you have right now, right here.
Shawn Achor, Happiness researcher, in Oprah’s “Supersoul conversations”, Dec. 18, 2017.
Martin Seligman, founder of Pos. Psychology, in his book “Authentic Happiness” (2004)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MORE POSTS IN THE SERIES