“Research on emotion shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. We adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long [new things] don’t feel so new and exciting anymore. But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted…In effect, I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.”
~ Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart
Feeling down this week? Frustrated? Angry? Anxious? Worried? Or any other tough emotion?
Wishing you could snap out of it and get to feeling better?
Here’s what you do: get a martini glass, some good vodka, a couple olives, and a shaker filled with ice.
Just kidding! (sort of) 😉
If you want to feel better AND keep functioning for the rest of the day, here’s your ticket:
You’ve heard it before, but if you don’t yet have a consistent practice, here are some great reasons to start now:
- When you lean into gratitude – like really feel into it – it’s pretty hard to also feel angry, anxious, frustrated, or any of the other tough emotions – at least at the same level. If feeling into gratitude doesn’t relieve those emotions entirely, you’ll definitely notice a reduction in their strength and power.
- A quick Google search on the benefits of gratitude will reveal a whole host of advantages – all backed by research. Feeling gratitude helps regulate stress hormones, like cortisol, and increase the “feel good” hormones, like serotonin and dopamine.
That translates to everything from better cardiac functioning…to better sleep…to more energy…to a reduction in worry, anxiety, and depression…to increased feelings of happiness…to stronger emotional resilience…and so much more.
- Worry, rumination, regret, and anxiety keep us laser focused on everything that was wrong, is wrong, or could be wrong, in our lives. Consistently and consciously practicing gratitude helps combat that tendency. It rewires your brain to focus on the positives in your life.
According to PositivePsychology.com, “The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA stated that gratitude does change the neural structures in the brain, and make us feel happier and more content” Further, “Scientists have suggested that by activating the reward center of the brain, gratitude exchange alters the way we see the world and ourselves.”
With the benefits clear, the question then becomes, how? How do you make gratitude a consistent and conscious practice?
After years of falling on and off the gratitude band wagon, I’ve finally established a regular practice and I can tell you, all the benefits I listed above are real.
Gratitude doesn’t fix everything or suddenly make your problems go away, but in my experience, it does increase your awareness of everything that’s good in your life and that leads to feeling happier and less stressed.
You’re better able to handle the challenges in your life, and they don’t fill such a big space in your daily experience. You see and feel the good stuff, too!
If you want to establish a gratitude practice, here are a 3 things that worked for me to finally get consistent:
- Make it Quick and Easy…
…but not so quick and easy that you don’t take time to connect with *feeling* gratitude. It’s one thing to write or say what you’re grateful for; it’s another to actually feel what that means.
I use the Calm app and it has a gratitude check-in that asks you to list 3 things you’re grateful for. As I’m typing each one, I take just a few moments to really feel how thankful I am for having that thing in my life. And because it’s just 3 things, it only takes me about 5 minutes.
That’s allowed me to be consistent in the morning when I wake up and at night before bed. Sometimes it adds to my already good mood, and sometimes it helps me transform a worried, sad, or bad mood. No matter what, it makes me feel brighter and happier!
If you don’t like using apps, just keep a notebook in your nightstand and take a few minutes each morning and evening to list 3 things you’re grateful for. Be sure to *feel* each one to really get the benefits of the practice.
And be sure to include yourself on a regular basis. What are you grateful for in yourself? Taking the time to appreciate your own efforts, accomplishments, and progress will help you stay focused on all the things you’re doing right!
I’ve written on my gratitude list that I’m grateful to myself for taking the time to focus on gratitude! And you know what? I’m like, ‘good on me!’ It gives me a little boost and makes me feel happy!
- Surround Yourself with Photos
Remember photo albums? My mom was great at organizing our family photos in albums through the years and I always loved looking at them. I still do. They bring back such happy memories!
In today’s digital age, creating a physical photo album is rare. Most of our pictures sit on our phone or get uploaded to Facebook or Instagram, only to get lost in the ether.
A moment of joy captured…a moment of joy gone…leaving us longing for the next moment of joy.
The great thing about photo prints is that they allow us to revel in the joy we experienced over and over again because we see the pictures everyday!
My husband and I recently put up a BUNCH of new photos in our living room, our offices, and in the hallway between our two offices.
The ones in the hallway include 5 collages – one with photos of my family…one with his family…one with our friends…and two that contain photos of our travels over the last 10 years.
Looking at these photos brings back such wonderful memories that we now refer to the hallway as the “hall of joy”! It’s fun to walk through! It reminds me how good our life has been, even though we’ve been through some tough times over the last few years.
It’s so easy to focus on the hard times. It’s so easy to remember the low points and the ongoing struggles we haven’t moved out of yet.
The good times don’t come to mind as quickly. But seeing the pictures everyday puts them right in front of us and reminds us that, along with the challenges, we’ve also had a LOT of fun along the way!
In my office, I’ve surrounded myself with photos of all my favorite women in my life – my mom, two of my aunts, my Godmother, my best friend, my sister-from-another-mister, my nieces, and my Goddaughter.
I also have a photo of my parents beaming with joy at our wedding, one of my Dad walking me down the aisle, and one of my husband and me on a date night in a heart-shaped frame.
Now every time I walk into my office, I can’t help but feel enormous gratitude for all the people in my life who I love and who love me, and for all the special memories I have with them. It’s good energy.
Photos are a great visual reminder of everything that’s right in your life! So next time you’re out running errands, pick up a few frames and make some prints of your favorite pictures.
And if you already have several photos around your house or on your desk, change them up, or add to your collection.
As Brene Brown says in the quote below, our brain adapts to positive emotions and the good feelings wear off. So put up new photos that spark happy memories and create renewed feelings of gratitude when you look at them.
- Use Your Imagination
We use our imagination all the time to visualize scary scenarios that might happen in our future. And if you pay attention to what’s happening in your body when you’re in that place, you’ll notice sensations like a racing heart, a knotted stomach, a tight back, a shallow breath – all the symptoms of the “fight or flight” response.
That’s because your brain doesn’t know the difference between your imagination and reality. Your body physically reacts to your thoughts because your brain thinks it’s really happening.
Here’s the good news: We can use our imagination to visualize good stuff happening, too! It just doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so we have to make a conscious effort to do it.
In addition to being on a gratitude streak, I’m also on a meditation streak. And in some of those meditations I visualize good things happening in my future – like business opportunities, or my back feeling 100% healed after going out a few weeks ago.
It only takes 10 or 15 minutes and I can tell you that my body reacts just like it does when I’m imagining scary stuff, but this time it’s with all kinds of positive sensations.
I feel myself leaning forward and my chest opening. I feel myself smiling and my energy rising. It’s almost like I can feel the endorphins running through my veins!
In one session, I actually started crying happy tears when I imagined people telling me how my group coaching program (currently in development) changed their lives! I felt so much gratitude for them and from them!
And since both science and spirituality tell us that our most vivid and repetitive thoughts become our reality, taking the time to imagine positive future scenarios and feeling gratitude for them as if they already happened, is well worth a few minutes out of each day.
Try it right now, or tonight before bed and see what happens to your mood and your energy!
I hope these ideas give you a good starting point for your gratitude practice! But here’s the key take-away: find something that works for you.
Maybe it’s speaking into your phone while you’re at a stoplight or waiting to pick your kid up from school…maybe it’s getting your whole family involved at dinner time…maybe it’s drawing pictures of the things you’re grateful for.
Whatever it is, one thing is for sure: finding a way to focus on and feel gratitude on a consistent basis will deliver benefits to you that make you really grateful you started a gratitude practice!