If there’s anything this year has taught us, it’s to not take the little things for granted.
Lockdowns and quarantines are making us appreciate the things that just a year ago seemed so normal.
Who would’ve ever thought that our ability to hang out with friends and colleagues, to attend concerts and sports events, or to travel would be so severely restricted?
Gratitude can truly transform every aspect of our lives—especially in crazy times like these. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of its science-based benefits before. But just in case you haven’t—here is a brief summary based on the findings of Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading gratitude expert.
Practicing gratitude on a consistent basis can help you:
>> Boost your immune system
>> Lower your blood pressure
>> Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon awakening
>> Feel more joy, optimism, and happiness
>> Be more alert, alive, and awake
>> Be more outgoing, generous, and compassionate
>> Feel less lonely and isolated
How is it that something as simple as being thankful can transform your life in so many different ways? We’ll help you understand the science behind gratitude and provide a few ways to help you make it a lifestyle.
The Science of Gratitude
The power of gratitude lies in the fact that it brings you back into the present moment and diverts your attention away from the things you can’t control. When your mind is focused on what’s missing in your life, your brain’s fight-or-flight response is triggered.
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between your thought of lack and the actual experience that you associate with lack. So whether you really don’t have a roof above your head or whether you’re constantly rehashing thoughts about not being able to pay rent next month, your brain reacts in a similar manner.
When our stomachs would rumble in the prehistoric days, the stress response was meant to remind us to go hunting or gather some more food. When we feel deprived of a basic need such as food, shelter, or even social acceptance and love, our body still prepares us to take action. Our hearts beat faster, our muscles constrict, and our breathing quickens.
Here’s what happens when this stress response is continually activated: energy is channeled away from your body’s natural healing and maintenance. All of this puts a strain on your body’s systems.
So where does gratitude fit into this?
When your focus is on the abundance that is present in your life, you let the brain know that things are okay. You cut off the stress response and your nervous system calms down. Your body gets back into functioning as it was supposed to—without having to fight the perceived lack in your life.
Training your Brain to see the Good in Life
Our culture bombards us with messages of lack daily. Media focuses on what’s wrong in the world rather than showing us all the ways that people are helping each other. Just think of the scientific research that comes out daily to help drive humanity forward but that nobody talks about!
Over time, your brain gets used to this idea that you need more. This leads to a feeling of unfulfillment—even when you finally get what you wanted. Gratitude is a way of retraining the brain to get used to a new thought: you already have what you need in order to be happy.
Meditation helps you slow your mind so you can notice the thoughts that keep you stuck in this lack mentality. Once you recognize that you are not these thoughts—but rather the one who is observing them—you can choose to change them. It’s in this stillness that you can access your subconscious and reprogram yourself to think in terms of more gratitude regardless of your circumstances.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
3 Simple Mindset Shifts that make Gratitude a Lifestyle
Gratitude journaling is a great way to become more conscious of all the good that’s already present in your life. But you’ve probably heard of this tool before, so we’re presenting three new ways to help you make gratitude a habit and eventually a lifestyle. If you adopt these on a daily basis, you’ll be reprogramming your brain to focus on the good so that you can feel more gratitude.
1. Be grateful for the skills to help you manifest your dreams.
When you think about manifesting your dream life, it’s easy to start thinking in terms of what you don’t yet have: enough money, the right people, the right place, etc. But rather than thinking about what’s missing, consider thinking about the resources that you do have.
Look at it as a fun DIY project. See how you can creatively combine your existing skills, ideas, and resources to take the steps needed to achieve your goals—even today.
You probably have an abundance of knowledge, talent, love, and compassion that can help you make any of your dreams come true! Even if there are skills or resources that may not be present right now, what you do have is the ability to choose to be patient, persistent, and courageous as you cultivate those skills.
2. Be grateful for your own courage and strength.
Learning to be grateful for yourself can seem tough at first. Perhaps you occasionally have that inner critic whispering in your ear as many of us do. The way to move past that is to start cultivating more gratitude for who you are.
The more you intentionally remind yourself of all the ways that you bring value to this world, the easier it becomes to feel gratitude for simply being alive.
All the good things you have in your life—no matter how small—used to be a dream at one point. But you made it happen! You brought them to life. Acknowledge that and recognize your own wins. Be grateful for the courage and strength that has brought you here, even despite the challenges you may have overcome.
3. Notice the abundance of smiles and kind words.
When it comes to gratitude, it’s common for people to first start thinking in terms of material objects first. Having a roof over your head or access to clean water and food are wonderful. But the real magic comes when you start noticing the abundance that comes to you in the form of people.
Life’s greatest gifts are often hidden in plain sight: our interactions with other people. You can train your brain to start feeling more joy every time the universe brings you the gift of a smile, a kind word, or a hug—whether from a stranger, a friend, or a loved one.
When you feel lonely, unfulfilled, or complacent in life, shift your attention to others. Think of the people in your life who bring you those extraordinary moments of joy—how do you naturally bring joy to them? Be grateful for these “common” daily interactions.
Remind yourself of the fleeting nature of life to help you be more appreciative of the little moments. Whether it’s your friends, partner, kids, parents, or grandparents, think about how blessed you are to have them around. They are probably just as grateful to have you in their life too.