“Why can’t you just be grateful for your present?” The ever famous words that I’m sure every mom has said after you open your Christmas present, as a kid, of socks or underwear. For most kids, that is truly one of the worst presents they can get. I mean they know they need it, but to get it as a present on Christmas. Sacrilege.
As a kid, we were never very grateful for those presents. Why not? Because socks and underwear weren’t the present we wanted, even though it was a present that we needed. Looking back at my childhood, I was an ungrateful brat. Or maybe not a brat, per say, just unaware of all the things I had and how gratitude would have changed my attitude in middle school, high school and college. This wasn’t to say that I wasn’t thankful for many things in my life, I just didn’t spend time counting those blessings intentionally.
I wasn’t grateful for the lessons I was learning, both positive and negative, that I needed in my life to help shape me into the person I would be today. I lived a life of abundant blessings but I was too blind to see it.
Now, I spend part of my mornings intentionally focusing on gratitude and all I am grateful for in my life for the past 24 hours. I have a journal that I brain dump everything I’m grateful for, big and small, every morning. When I do this consistently, I notice a few changes:
- It’s easier to rebound from a seemingly negative experience.
- I can find the silver linings in those plot twists in life a little bit quicker and easier.
- I tend to be happier.
- I enjoy my life more
There have been times I have gotten away from this practice, what I have found when I do this is:
- My stress levels seem to be higher
- I focus more on what is going wrong in my life rather than what is going right
- I break down easier when plot twists happen in my life and it’s harder to recover from it.
- I am more irritable with people.
My family can tell when I’m doing it as part of my routine because it’s a distinct difference in me. I can also tell that there’s a distinct difference between how I think when I’m consistently practicing gratitude than when I’m not.
A study done by Joshua Brown and Joel Wong at Indiana University(1) showed how gratitude helps people and mental health. They ran an experiement where people either wrote letters of gratitude to people, write about experiences that affected them negatively and a group that did nothing for three weeks. What they found is that focusing on gratitude releases toxic emotions by making it harder to focus on negative emotions. They also found that the gratitude helped those that focused on writing the letters even though they didn’t actually share it with the people they wrote it to. In addition, they found that gratitude takes time. It doesn’t simply work after one day of focusing on gratitude. It takes being consistent in the practice.
They reported that the mental health of the groups were about the same after the exercise had been over a week, but four weeks after, the group who wrote the gratitude letters had better mental health. The increase between the groups was even more evident at twelve weeks after the conclusion of the study. They stated that it is unknown as to why it increased but perhaps they talked about the study to others thus reinforcing the positive emotions that they had experienced.
The part I found really interesting is that 3 months after the conclusion of the study, they ran fMRI scans on the brains of those that wrote the gratitude letters and those that didn’t. They found more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex area of the brain, the part of the brain that’s associated with learning and decision making.
The truth is, when you are grateful, it’s very hard to have any other emotion. Gratitude can even knock you out of an emotional state that is lowering your vibe. The next time you’re stressed or feeling emotionally down, stop, close your eyes, put your hand over your heart and think about a moment that you were truly grateful for. Imagine yourself stepping back into that moment. Let all the gratitude wash over you. Breathe it in with a deep breath or two or three. Then open your eyes. I bet you’ll feel so much better after that.
Strive to make gratitude part of your daily routine. Here are some things you can do to help with the practice of gratitude. You can choose one or do multiple things. One can never have too much gratitude!
- Gratitude journaling. This is my favorite. I just brain dump everything from the past 24 hours, but if you want some writing prompts watch this video of Marie Forleo’s for some great ones!
- Write a letter of gratitude to someone just like they did in the study I mentioned. You can choose to give it to them or not.
- Pay it forward at a drive through. This can start a whole chain of gratitude.
- Have a gratitude jar (I have one on my desk!). When you think of something you’re grateful for, drop it in there.
- Do a gratitude box. Every day put a few things in there you are grateful for, then read everything you put in it at the end of the year!
- Do a gratitude meditation. I love this one!
- Flip your script and find reasons why you’re grateful for a plot twist in your life. Maybe getting a divorce or breakup led to finding your soul mate. Maybe getting fired from that job led you to find your true passion.
Shoot me an email or connect with me on social media and share with me how you have incorporated gratitude into your daily life and how it’s helped you.
If you’re interested, another great article to read on gratitude research is this one I found one I found on positivepsychology.com.
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