How often do you feel grateful? How often do you think thoughts of gratitude?
If you’re like most people, it’s not that often. As humans, we have an innate negativity bias - to focus more on the things that aren’t right, that aren’t working. We were wired that way as a protective mechanism to keep us safe from real threats back in the day. These days it just keeps you stuck and unhappy.
Sure, it’s easy to feel grateful when your relationships are thriving, your health is optimal, your finances are abundant, and things seem to be in flow. But what about the times when one or more of those areas are less than optimal. What about the times you are struggling?
As you dwell on what’s not working in your life, it’s quite difficult to feel grateful for anything. But is it possible that you have more to be grateful for than you realize? Is it possible that with a little practice, you may be able to feel more gratitude and peace rather than despair, anxiety, or sadness? And is it possible that a shift in perspective could create a shift in how you feel and show up in the world?
My answer to those questions is YES. I’ve gone through rough periods in my life (quite recently in fact) and during those times when things seemed to be at their worst, that is where my focus went. All I thought about was what wasn’t working, how everything seemed to be falling apart around me, and how miserable I was.
It led to feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety. Life felt dark.
Until I realized that I had authority over my thoughts. That I could choose to change. It didn’t come easy. It took serious will power initially. And it’s still a process and a practice for me. Implementing various gratitude practices and mindset work has helped tremendously.
To be clear, this isn’t an act of slapping a stamp of gratitude on everything and saying it’s fine while ignoring the stuff underneath. I spent a lot of time working through and processing the difficult emotions - acknowledging them, honoring them, feeling them, and letting them go. It’s a practice of releasing and reprogramming.
What I like about gratitude is that it’s a pretty easy place to start that can offer a lot of benefits. According to Jay Shetty in his book, Think Like a Monk, “Gratitude silences the monkey mind which amplifies negativity. Try feeling bitterness, anger, resentment and feeling grateful at the same time. When you’re present in gratitude you can’t be anywhere else.
According to UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb, we truly can’t focus on positive and negative feelings at the same time. When we feel grateful, our brains release dopamine (the reward chemical), which makes us want to feel that way again, and we begin to make gratitude a habit. Says Korb, “Once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for.” It’s a “virtuous cycle.”
Gratitude has benefits not just for the mind but for the physical body. The toxic emotions that gratitude blocks contribute to widespread inflammation, which is a precursor to loads of chronic illnesses, including heart disease. Studies show that grateful people not only feel healthier, they’re also more likely to take part in healthy activities and seek care when they’re ill.
The health benefits of gratitude are so extensive that Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the Division of Biologic Psychology at Duke University Medical Center, told ABC News, “If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
So we now have science to prove the positive effects gratitude offers for all levels of health and healing. So why not start to practice gratitude? Maybe you don’t know how or where to start?
In this video, I share five easy ways to bring more gratitude into your life. When you cultivate gratitude, when you find things in your life that you can be thankful and grateful for, it helps you see possibility. It helps you see opportunities, as opposed to obstacles. It can help you get unstuck from whatever situation you feel stuck in.
So often when things aren't going the way we want in our life, that becomes the focus. And where you place your attention (focus) is where you place your energy. So how can you change your perspective, and start to see more of what is working in your life? When you feel and embody gratitude, it creates a dopamine response in your body. Dopamine is a feel good neurotransmitter that is like a reward chemical to your brain. By cultivating gratitude, we have a triggering of this reward chemical, dopamine, and it makes us want more of that.
I'm going to share five easy ways to bring more gratitude in your life, even and especially when you don't feel like it.
I'm sure you've heard of gratitude journaling. And that can be a really great place to start. It doesn't have to take a long time, you don't have to journal for an hour. You can simply start with writing out 1-3 things that you're grateful for first thing in the morning or at night before you go to bed. And these don't have to be big extravagant things. What is one thing that you're grateful for in your life? Maybe it was the sunshine that you experienced during the day. Or maybe it's a certain relationship in your life. Maybe it is a pet. Maybe it's a warm, comfortable place to sleep. Perhaps it's the community that you're a part of. Write down 1-3 things. Begin your sentence with "I am so happy and grateful that________." Or "I'm grateful for________."
Essential oils can be used in your gratitude practice. Many oils are uplifting, so they really help boost happiness and boost your mood. Oils like wild orange and other citrus oils. Magnolia is a really beautiful oil that promotes positivity. Another favorite of mine is a blend, called Balance. It's a very grounding blend. So those are just a couple, there are many others. Diffusing those oils or applying them topically will help elevate your frequency, shift your mood and boost positivity. And as you're using those oils, you can even speak some some affirmations of gratitude.
Breathwork is a powerful way to release stuck emotions, shift perspectives, and cultivate gratitude. Breathwork helps calm the monkey mind that is mostly negative. You can begin to shift your mindset just by breathing slower and breathing in a rhythm. When I guide clients through breathwork, I'm also speaking affirmations and guiding visualizations to help anchor in more empowering beliefs. So you can say some affirmations to yourself as you're breathing. Breathe in, "I am" breathe out, "grateful".
Get outside, enjoy the sunshine, get in nature. Take off your shoes and put your feet in the earth. Grounding in the earth, getting in nature is very healing. It can start to silence the monkey mind so you feel more calm and at peace. And you can start to observe your environment around you and feel gratitude for the nature that is surrounding you.
Relationships are so so important. Invest in relationships that energize you and uplift you where you feel supported and loved. Cultivate deep, meaningful, authentic relationships, and spend time in person with those people. Whether it's meeting a friend for lunch or joining an inner circle, or sisterhood, or men's group. Spend time with people with whom you feel comfortable to be open and honest and vulnerable and connect deeply. Invest in your friends and family and even your pets. Your pets can offer so much love, joy, and connection. As you're spending time with your pets, friends, or family, bring awareness to the gratitude you have for those relationships.