Have you ever noticed that when you experience a misfortune that upsets or hurts you, it seems to stick with you for far longer than an experience that pleases you?
Perhaps you catch yourself obsessively looping or replaying a negative event over and over in your mind – that silly argument that you had last night with your partner; that mistake you made in your important work presentation; or that unpleasant comment that you heard someone mutter about you. Yet when someone pays you a genuine compliment, or you receive some good news, you either deflect it completely or don’t give it anywhere near as much attention?
Well, you’re not alone in this. It turns out that this is a scientifically proven human condition. Our brains have a natural propensity towards negativity. In the words of psychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson; “the mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones.”
The bad times stick, the good times slip
To explain this, we need to go back to the times of our ancestors, where potential life-threatening dangers were a daily occurrence. In order for us to survive, our brains had to evolve to pay preferential attention to negative information over positive. The ones that survived these times to pass down their genes were those that learnt to issue greater importance to the sound of a rattlesnake at their feet, over the pleasing scent of a wild flower in the breeze.
Fast-forward to modern, relatively safer times, and this ‘negativity bias’ is now fully entrenched in our psyche. Research from clinical psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, found that within important relationships, a negative interaction is weighted as five times more powerful than a positive interaction.
Can we overcome this tendency towards negativity?
The good news is yes, we can! If we tip the balance from negativity towards positivity by consciously paying more attention to all of the positive events in our daily lives, we can actually rewire our brain. To do this though, not only must we choose to notice the positives more, but we must spend time really feeling them, soaking up the full experience into our bodies and intentionally weaving them into the very fabric of our being.
How? Give thanks.
The act of practising gratitude is a wonderfully simple but proven effective process that helps us to rewire our thinking patterns and increase our levels of happiness, by paying more consideration and attention to the positives.
Taking time throughout each day to pause, notice and reflect upon the things that we are thankful for not only stops us feeling so negative, but will also lift our mood, lower our stress levels and result in a whole range of other benefits too.
How to bring more gratitude into your life
Keep a daily Gratitude Journal
Jot down three to five things that you’re thankful for before you get into bed. Challenge yourself to list different things every single day – this will help you to really stretch that gratitude muscle and consider all things that are there to be appreciated, far beyond just the obvious.
Make a Gratitude Jar
Invite your children, family and friends to share and expand their gratefulness too. Encourage each other to write down on small pieces of paper all of the little moments of gratitude as they are felt, and add them to the jar. At the end of the year, you have a great excuse to get together for a ‘gratitude party’, where you can read through all of the notes and celebrate the wonderful year you had.
Get the App
Be grateful that there is an app for pretty much anything you could think of nowadays! Download an app such as Gratitude! or Gratitude365 to your smartphone or tablet and set up regular reminders to prompt you to consider what you’re thankful for.
There really is nothing too small to be thankful for. Gratitude shouldn’t just be reserved for the bigger things in life so make sure to leave nothing out. Appreciate the magic in the littlest things. The dry weather on your lunch-break. The smell of freshly brewed coffee. The five minutes you saved by taking a different route on your commute home.
Give thanks at every mealtime
Before tucking in to your meal, take a moment to contemplate how lucky you are to eat fresh food and drink clean water every day. Then send thanks to everyone and everything involved in that meal reaching your plate, all the way through from the farm to the shop to the cook. Finally, make sure to eat mindfully and relish each and every mouthful. Turn your phone and/or the television off and try to focus on the nutrients that you are bringing in to your body. Give thanks for the taste, the texture, the whole, delicious experience!
Spend time each day contemplating the things that you are grateful for. This doesn’t just have to be when sat in meditation, but perhaps during your morning shower, or when you’re stuck in traffic, on the train or in the queue at the supermarket. Without any thought for the past or future, try to live in the present moment and appreciate all that you bring to your mind’s eye with your full focus and attention.
Whether you volunteer at a charity event, get involved in helping your local community, compliment a stranger or commit the odd ‘random act of kindness’, being in service to others is a wonderful way to cultivate more gratitude in your own life. Not only will you become more grateful for the things that you had previously taken for granted, but your overall feelings of wellbeing will increase as you help others, and thus your ability to feel gratitude too. It’s a win-win – helping others helps you too!
Spend time in nature
Get outside at least once each day and appreciate just how beautiful the nature that surrounds you is. If you live in a country where the sky is often cloudy, this is an absolute must on those blessed, rare days of sunshine! Lift your face up to the sun and smile. Give thanks for the warmth and feel the vital lifeforce energy flowing through every cell of your body. Marvel at the exquisite colours of the blossoming flowers. Enjoy how the sprawling branches of a tree provide shelter for you from the rain. Be grateful for the incredible, precious, natural art that surrounds you and is a part of you.
Share your thanks
Tell someone you love how you feel about them, and how much you appreciate them. Say thank you to the people that serve you in the community – such as the bus driver, the binman and the shopkeeper. Hand-write a thank you note for someone who recently helped you. Write a kind review for a restaurant you recently dined in. Share your gratitude on social media – an inspiring quote you came across on pinterest; a shout-out to your hairdresser; a song that made you jump out of your seat to dance and lifted your mood.
Live your best life – full of gratitude and thankfulness
Remember, the key to rewiring our negative brains and really reap the full, happy benefits of the practice is to really feel our gratitude.
What does being thankful feel like in your body? Can you feel that warmth, love, appreciation, joy, pleasure inside you? Breathe it in deeply. And breathe out fully. Where does gratitude reside within your body? Can you allow this sense of gratitude to wash completely through you?
Gratitude improves our health
Studies have shown that people who consistently practise gratitude report a plethora of health and wellness benefits that include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Longer, deeper sleep
- Increased stamina during physical exercise
- Lower stress levels and other negative emotions (e.g. anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, etc.)
- More feelings of contentment, happiness, optimism, joy, pleasure, satisfaction
- Improved concentration levels
- Feeling more alert, awake and alive
Help yourself, help others
Not only does being thankful improve our own health and wellbeing as individuals, but it can also contribute towards a healthier and happier society as a whole, by improving how we relate and interact with one another.
Grateful, happy, healthy people are generally:
- More generous, considerate, kind and compassionate
- More forgiving and understanding
- More outgoing and sociable
- Less lonely and isolated
Pausing, reflecting and feeling appreciative for all of the million great things that are happening in our daily lives is one of the most valuable things that we can do for ourselves and for others. Being grateful makes us happy, keeps us grounded and helps us to find peace. It connects us to life, to all that is sacred and to all that exists beyond what our eyes can see.
“When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
– Lao Tzu