What are you grateful for? Does having a gratitude practice actually help?
Most coaches, influencers and spiritual teachers will have you ask yourself this question. They will tell you to wake up and go to bed each and every day and express three things you are grateful for.
In a Harvard study, they showed the impact that gratitude had on not just our overall wellbeing, but on our brains ability to solve problems. The research showed that the positive emotions that are ignited when we think of what we are grateful has a positive impact on our body, our emotional state (even if we are experiencing challenges), and most importantly, our brain.
When your brain has formed neural pathways that develop from having a daily practice of gratitude, you become more open to more positive possibilities, and those positive, or optimistic emotions affect your ability to learn and make decisions with more ease.
The research shows that having a daily gratitude practice actually changes the physical make up of your brain. Neurons that wire together, fire together. It changes the way you think, which changes the way you behave, which changes the decisions you make. Incredible!
So, even when things are challenging, having this practice can turn feelings of lack into feelings of abundance, which makes you believe that even though you don’t have everything you want (yet) you have everything that you need. Trusting, not with false positivity, but with newly developed neural pathways, that even though things are difficult, you will get through it.
This daily practice also:
Programs your brain to see all the good around you. Things we often miss when we are stressed, or experiencing very difficult and/or challenging times.
It can help you to stop the momentum when you begin speaking unkind to yourself. Especially when it feels like the thing you want is never going to come, or when your limiting beliefs begin to creep in.
It changes your emotional response, which is where you make your decisions from, including attitude, actions, reactions and behavior.
And, you can literally do this practice anywhere! Which is why I recommend it.
Taking the science out of it, it’s like a little LOVE FEST that strengthens your emotional and mental muscles.
I am going to share four ways to use gratitude as a daily practice. What I encourage you to do is to practice this daily (choosing all or one of the practices that you like) for the next two weeks and than give yourself a check in.
Do you feel more optimistic?
Do you feel changes in the way you react, think, and respond, or even in your actions?
What changes have you experienced in two weeks, both mentally and emotionally, maybe even physically after doing this daily?
Practice 1: Gratitude Rampages
I talked about this practice in a workshop I facilitated, and one woman messaged me a few days later told me that she had been going on gratitude rampages on her commute and had already begun to experience the positive impact. She said she was getting to work feeling more energized, and getting home feeling more positive and joyful. She said, “I don’t care why it works, or how I silly I feel talking out loud, but the way I feel is all the validation I need to keep doing it.”
The practice is simple; choose times throughout the day where you will mentally, or out loud, express all the things you are grateful for. Just go on a rampage of gratitude for your entire car ride, or while you cook dinner, while you walk, or even while you fold laundry or clean. You can use past or current examples.
We overcomplicate the things we think we need to do to heal, and there is a place for all practices, but I want you to be able to have tools in your toolbox that you can turn to without needing anything but your own beautiful mind and voice.
Practice 2: Choose Gratitude Reminders
Friends of mine shared this practice with me and I absolutely love it.
In this practice, you are going to choose an object, and each time you see, or hear it, you simply stop and think about something you are grateful for.
I chose seeing a red cardinal. Every time I see this bird, this is my trigger to pause and express one thing I am grateful of. Sometimes I will just watch the bird and think about how grateful I am for this bird and the momentary pause and breather.
Imagine the mental and emotional shifts that could occur if you take this five second pause twenty times a day.
You can pick a red light, an animal, specific car, or even a sound. Just choose something that you know you will see or hear at least once a day.
Practice 3: Write It Out – Start & End Your Day With Gratitude
This is the practice we hear most often and one that I find so helpful for me because my journal writing is so therapeutic for me.
In the years that I’ve been writing gratitude lists in my journal, I’ve come to realize that there is always something to be grateful for, even in the days that I felt were the most challenging.
When we are going through a difficult time, we have to look for it. Not with your eyes, but with your heart because the darkness can block the light. Gratitude, even just for one thing, is the light we can shine to help us see.
Just begin with one thing. When you wake up, and when you go to bed, write down one thing you are grateful for, taking pause to really think about why you are grateful it. It can be hearing your favorite song on the radio, someone smiling at you, a good meal, the air that you breathe, the sun in the sky, a walk in nature, or even remembering how many times your gratitude trigger from practice three came up.
Let the thought ignite your emotional response. Don’t just think it; pause long enough to feel it. That is what we want to experience – the change to our emotional state.
Practice 4: Turn Dinner Into a Gratitude Session
It is so tempting to get into the habit of mindlessly eating dinner in front of the television, where no one speaks. There are times where this is more than okay. But it is also important for yourself, and your relationships to sit together and talk. How often are you sitting in silence, playing on your phones, or spending the time complaining about your day? This leaves everyone feeling drained and disconnected.
In this practice, what I’m recommending is changing the experience and energy inside of the home. When you sit down to eat dinner, you will each talk about one to three good things that happened that day and why it made you feel grateful and appreciative.
The point of this practice is to shift your focus towards what is good in your life, especially when you have had a bad day. But what it also does is shift everyone’s energy. It also breaks the habit of not complaining all the time and being contagiously negative.
If you live alone, do this practice by using practice one and going on a gratitude rampage while you eat.
Gratitude is a great way to feel blessed, even when things don’t feel like they are going your way, especially like what we have been experiencing in 2020. It turns feelings of lack into feelings of abundance. It is the power of vitamin G. When we express what we are grateful for, we start to see so many beautiful things happening around us. Yes there is darkness all around us AND there is also light. This practice helps us to open up our hearts so we can allow ourselves to see this light, and most importantly, to feel the emotional impact of it.