If you are like most people, you probably have days when it seems like nothing is going right, moments when you feel virtually defeated by an endless list of things to do. In these moments our minds may become flooded with doubt, frustration, confusion, and even resentment for all of our responsibilities. We can feel like we are drowning in the abundance of responsibilities afforded by adulthood.
I am sure you would laugh if I insisted that this would be an opportunity to find a mat and a quiet place in which to meditate. And you might laugh if I asked you to visualize sending your worries floating away on clouds. Understandably, the suggestion to “be mindful,” while you scramble to finish all those errands, might sound impractical and even irrelevant.
So what if we pare down the language we use now, extracting any “mindfulness jargon,” and view the matter through a different lens? What would it be like to find something to be grateful for in these moments, to approach each new challenge with “an attitude of gratitude”?
You may still have critical thoughts about this idea, but that is okay. Just notice the thoughts that come up around the concept of gratitude without judging them. Also ask yourself, “Are these thoughts helping me move towards a new way of handling stress, or are they keeping me stuck in unhelpful patterns?”
If your answer favors the latter, you might be interested in these facts concerning the positive impact of Gratitude on personal health and wellbeing.
In his article The Grateful Brain: The neuroscience of giving thanks, Alex Korbe PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UCLA, highlights key findings from four studies that suggest that gratitude is positively linked with happiness and wellbeing. For instance, in a study from the National Institute of Health, subjects who demonstrated more feelings of gratitude were found to have greater activity in their hypothalamus, the brain region responsible for essential bodily processes like eating and sleeping, as well as stress and metabolic levels. Moreover, gratitude was found to stimulate areas of the brain responsible for producing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which rewards us with good feelings and triggers our urge to repeat the activity that caused the release of dopamine (i.e., summoning gratitude). Additional research reveals that adolescents assigned to maintain gratitude journals showed greater levels of determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy compared to the other groups. While this shows a clear benefit of gratitude, it does not change the fact that we do not always feel grateful when obstacles are put in front of us, especially when overwhelmed and exhausted. So, how does this gratitude thing work when things are just not going the way you want?
To awaken the feeling of gratitude we have to become aware of positive sides of our situation and cultivate a sense of appreciation for these encouraging angles.
Gratitude does not just happen. Feeling thankful for what is in the preset moment is a skill acquired through practice. The more often we practice gratitude, the more benefits we may discover. Fortunately, practicing gratitude can be as easy as 1) Giving thanks for your morning coffee 2) Looking for the positive in a difficult situation:
1. Morning coffee gratitude: First thing in the morning, you have an opportunity to start your day with a grateful attitude for something as small as your first cup of coffee. You can kick off your day with a grateful attitude by noticing and appreciating that first cup of coffee (or tea) in the morning. While you sip your morning coffee, take a moment to ponder the things that you are thankful for in that moment. You might reflect on:
§ The feeling of the coffee cup that is warming your hands;
§ The fragrance of the coffee;
§ That first sip of coffee;
§ The beauty of the morning;
§ The peacefulness of morning before the day starts;
§ The opportunity to start a new day, full with possibilities;
2. Finding the positive in a difficult situation: When things go wrong you may instinctively feel the grip of failure around your shoulders. However, you also have the option to practice gratitude as an alternative approach to release any negative emotions you may be feeling.
Following an unpleasant situation, you can practice changing a pessimistic perspective by remembering that obstacles often help us learn something about ourselves or the world, and they frequently benefit us in the long term. When adversity arises, try asking yourself these questions to change your outlook:
§ “What can be learned from this situation?”
§ “What is positive about this?”
§ “How will this experience benefit me?”
§ “Can I find something to be glad for in this situation?”
The act of developing gratitude and the practice of cultivating mindfulness techniques are similar processes as they move us to engage with the present moment in a state of open reception. In this process of watching and being in the world without judgment, we automatically experience greater vitality and interest in our experience. When we get out of our heads and into our lives, we contact the present through our senses rather than the worn out cognitive tapes and messages we replay in our minds.
So the next time you start feeling strung out over your endless chores, try tuning into your gratitude in the moment. Maybe this experience has a positive edge. Perhaps you will have to learn a more efficient way of managing your schedule to avoid stress. Or maybe you will find yourself missing the things that do bring you joy and peace, and come closer to your values in their absence. While practicing gratitude will not immediately fix the inevitable issues of daily life, it might be an entry into a fully lived life where positive and negative events are faced and embraced with acceptance.
Written by Emily Holden, LPC Intern – Supervised by Michele Holcomb LPC-S
Korb, A. (2013). The grateful brain: The neuroscience of giving thanks.
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.