“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.” ~ Douglas Wood
Occupy Sanity Tool (OST): Gratitude 2.0
I first introduced the OST: Gratitude with a 3 step exercise in my blog post “5 Minutes of Gratitude Attitude Raises Your Vibration .” As I mentioned in that article, I continue to find: “…that a daily Gratitude Practice has improved my ability to move from a negative state into a positive one quickly.” In 2020, there have been times when I needed to “turbo-charge” my practice; thus I’ve created the OST: Gratitude 2.0.
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~ Melody Beattie
Beattie’s premise seems to indicate that applying gratitude is a miracle cure for whatever ails us. As I begin to reflect on this year, I see how this has been true for me. I feel happier just reading her quote, which seems to be one of the results of practicing gratitude. A quick search reveals a large body of scientific research to support the positive effect a Gratitude Practice has on our well being.
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.” ~ Germany Kent
Counting our blessings and feeling grateful is more comfortable when everything is going our way. Think of a time when you felt loved, accomplished, healthy, happy, etc. Fill in the blank with your own words. I imagine somewhere in that memory is a moment when you were feeling grateful. Or perhaps you avoided a dangerous situation, like when you swerved to miss another motorist coming into your lane. After a few expletives, I suspect you were saying “Whew! That was a close one.” and “Thank you ” to yourself and the Divine.
Creating Hope In Difficult Times
Being grateful or thankful in difficult times does not come as easy. With feelings of loss, shock, and despair that come with life events, many of which we’re experiencing this year, it’s hard to find gratitude. Yet research shows that by choosing to find just one positive aspect in your life, “…you can find hope amidst despair.”
A 2003 study conducted to evaluate emotions after 9/11 revealed that people filled with feelings like gratitude and love had a higher level of resiliency. As Z. Colette Edwards, MD summarizes in her article “20 Ways To Be Grateful And Kind During Difficult Times“:
“They were also more likely to experience self-growth and less likely to suffer from depression. This happens because gratitude blocks, or at least balances out, negative emotions like anger, resentment, depression, disappointment, and regret.”
Considered one of the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert A. Emmons has found that practicing gratitude brings your focus back to the present moment where you can celebrate who you are and what you have. The invitation is to be with how life is instead of what you want it to be.
He discovered there is a difference “…between feeling grateful and being grateful.” As he writes in his essay “How Gratitude Can Help You In Hard Times“:
“We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.”
Gratitude Changes Brain Chemistry
According to several studies, regularly practicing gratitude changes brain chemistry. In their article “How Gratitude Changes You And Your Brain,” Joshua Brown Ph.D., and Joel Wong Ph.D. say that:
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
- Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it.
- Gratitude’s benefits take time.
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain.
In her article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How it Affects Anxiety & Grief,” Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA, cites several research studies that confirm the neurochemical changes in the brain as a result of creating a gratitude attitude. One study
“… revealed that the reason why some of us are naturally more grateful than others, is the neurochemical differences at the Central Nervous System. People who express and feel gratitude have a higher volume of grey matter in the right inferior temporal gyrus (Zahn et al, 2014).”
It seems that the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin are released when we practice gratitude daily. When we feel happier, we are more likely to engage in physical activity, which releases more endorphins. Studies also reveal that with more physical activity, we sleep better. When we feel better physically, our self-esteem improves, which can enhance our professional and personal relationships. As Chowdhury says:
“By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.”
Even without all the science to back me up, I continue to stand by my own experience that my gratitude practice has changed my brain chemistry. How do I know this? I FEEL better. I can sense the shift when I allow my emotions to be part of my experience instead of pushing them aside. Then I check in with my Gratitude Attitude and see what else is available.
My turbo-charge for the OST: Gratitude 2.0 includes:
~ Waking up every day and pumping up my Gratitude Attitude first thing by saying or writing, “I am happy and grateful for ____________.
~ Reducing the amount of time I spend in negativity. Some days I set a timer for 5 minutes and allow myself time to be negative. Then I follow up with the statement, “Despite all that, here are some positive aspects I’m experiencing.”
~ Listening to Gratitude Meditations.
~ Thanking at least one person every day for something. It doesn’t have to be someone I know. It’s a great exercise to train yourself to look for the best in people.
Now it’s your turn. Try Gratitude 2.0 and let us know what happens for you.