Transform Your Life With a Gratitude Practice
Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
Psychologist Rick Hanson says our mind is like Velcro for negative emotions, sticking to them. Bad experiences can stay in our minds for a long time. But positive feelings, like Teflon, just slide off.
We often dwell on negatives, like an argument or a grumpy shopkeeper, long after they happen.
But neuroscience shows we can re-train our brain. Because of its plasticity, we can lessen negative emotions and boost positive ones. Our thoughts shape our minds, so changing our thinking can change our brain patterns.
By practicing gratitude, we change how we see ourselves and the world. Here are some tips to help you build a more grateful mindset.
Say thank you
Try to write a thank you letter, card, or email every month to let someone know how much you appreciate and value them. You could post it, hand deliver it, or even read it out loud to them.
This is a wonderful way to show someone that you cherish them or a great way to nurture a new connection. A study in the journal Emotion found that sending a handwritten thank you note to a new acquaintance makes you appear like a warmer and friendlier person.
Write a Journal
The best way to learn to appreciate everything you have already in your life is to start a daily gratitude journal.
You can focus and write three or five good things that happened that day. This can include mentioning people you value, personal attributes, gifts, and benefits bestowed on your path.
Keep a notepad by your bedside so you’ve always got it within reach in the morning or at bedtime.
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A University of Oregon study looked at how a gratitude journal affected the brains of 16 women. They found big changes in a part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This part is linked to altruism – caring selflessly for others.
Acknowledge the bad
Importantly, life is not always a bed of roses. Don’t try to block out difficult or sad times from your gratitude journey. By recognizing the past and appreciating your efforts to improve your life, you create an ideal space for gratitude.
Create a gratitude board
Put up a new bulletin board and start to pin things up on that you are grateful for. For instance, thank you cards and letters, tickets to a show or play that made you feel good, poems, quotes, or pieces of artwork. It can be anything you recognize as an expression of love and gratitude.
Create a habit
To get the most benefit, it is important to try to practice gratitude daily. This is easy to forget when life gets busy.
Try to make gratitude a habit and incorporate it into your everyday routine. Leave reminders for yourself in places you know you will see them.
For example, in the fridge or on your bedside table. You don’t need to overdo it either. Taking time to let your mind linger for a few minutes over a positive experience that day also makes a difference. Or write your own gratitude vow promising to count your blessings every day.
Do It Together
Practicing gratitude can be a group activity. Sharing it with others can make your bonds stronger and remind you to keep at it.
Include it in your dinner routine with your partner, kids, family, or friends. Use this time to talk about the good things that happened in your day.
You can share anything, big or small. Maybe someone held a door for you, your boss praised your work, or a stranger smiled on the train. All these are positive moments and if you look for them, you will experience them more often.
Gratitude is in the little things too, like a text from someone saying they miss you or a hug from your child. These moments matter just as much.
One of the most powerful tools to help train the brain to be more positive is through meditation.
Regular practice can create new neural pathways that help mold the brain to be more grateful. For instance, meditation helps grow gratitude by focusing on the present moment without judgment or criticism.
Another form of meditation aimed at developing deeper gratitude is called Naikon. Originally from Japan, Naikon, when translated, means ‘looking inside’.
It is a powerful gratitude meditation as it asks the participant to reflect on their life and the world around them. When practiced daily this meditation has a profound impact on creating a deeper sense of gratitude for the world around you.
As part of the meditation, you are asked to reflect on all aspects of your life from birth right up to the present.
There are many life-changing benefits that come from feeling grateful. However, gratitude is not a panacea for all life’s problems. There will be times when too much gratitude might hinder us rather than propel us forward in the best way.