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I used to give the most gigantic eye rolls to the idea of “daily gratitude”, “gratitude journals”, or people who claimed they had a “gratitude practice”. I felt grateful…what difference would it make to say it out loud or write it down?! Turns out, being more intentional about recognizing gratitude in your life can have a profound impact. One that is backed up by science — and neuroscience at that. Hopefully, that is reason enough for you to start a daily gratitude practice ASAP!
Starting a daily gratitude practice (oh god, I’m one of those people now!) can be a bit awkward. You might find yourself blankly staring at a page, feeling silly for the little things you’re grateful for, or finding it impossible to come up with anything. These tips should help!
The good news here is that there is really no right or wrong way to do this. You could simply habit stack it to make it part of your daily routine. For example, “Each evening while I brush my teeth, I will think about three things I am grateful for.”
You could also start a document on your phone where you’ll list something each morning when you wake up.
I’m the type of person who needs to understand how something works. Once I understand the how and why behind it, I’m way more likely to make it a habit.
Have you ever bought a new car…we’ll say a Mazda 3. And then a day after driving it you suddenly feel like everyone in your city also went out and bought a new Mazda 3?! Or maybe you just purchased your first red car, and suddenly you feel like every parking lot you pull into is full of red cars? That’s because the Mazda 3, or a red car, is at the front of your mind. So now you are hyper-aware every time you see one. Suddenly red Mazda 3s are everywhere.
That’s sorta how gratitude changes the brain and these changes can be seen on an MRI. Researchers have discovered that people who practice gratitude have greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex. A striking discovery that suggests gratitude can have a lasting effect on the brain, potentially training the brain to be more sensitive to gratitude in the future — which can essentially make us happier and healthier over time.
“Keeping a gratitude journal causes less stress, improves the quality of sleep, and builds emotional awareness. Gratitude is positively correlated to more vitality, energy, and enthusiasm to work harder.” (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
So essentially, if you make it a habit to be aware of the good things in your life and write them down each day as something you are grateful for, you will suddenly start to see good things everywhere. You’ll pay attention to the good things — even if they are small or fleeting — rather than dwelling on the bad or difficult things.
If you find yourself thinking “I have no idea what I’d write down”. It’s probably more because you already feel like you’re grateful for everything, more so than that you have nothing to be grateful for. But feeling generally grateful for everything in a passive way is part of the problem. The idea of gratitude is to bring consciousness to the things you feel grateful for so that you are more aware of them in your daily life.
To help these things rise to the surface, you can try these tips:
If you wanna dive into this more, here are some pieces I found really helpful:
The Neuroscience of Gratitude – Article from Positive Psychology
How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain – Article from Greater Good at Berkeley
The Gratitude Diaries – Book by Janice Kaplan
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