Gratitude practice changed my life
I’ve previously about how gratitude practice changed my life. It turned me from perpetually being a ‘grey sky thinker’ to seeing the positives in life.
I had gone through life feeling like the odds were stacked against me.
Good fortune and luck were things that happened to other people. I was great at seeing the negatives in any situation which helped back up my theory (let’s face it, none of us like to be wrong…). My train was 2 minutes late: this always happen to me. Didn’t get the call for a job interview: that’s just typical.
In pretty much any situation, I found it easy to dissect what was wrong about it, I just struggled with thinking what was right.
I first learnt about gratitude after reading the Secret and falling down a Rhonda Byrne / self-help book rabbit hole. I decided to give it a whirl for a few weeks and here I am 7 years later with my cup still half full.
For me, the greatest change has been to stop sweating the small stuff and to notice the positives more. I feel happy when I’m running late and my train is equally late too. I look for opportunities in situations, rather than being a naysayer and I’m much more in control of my feelings instead of being led by them.
However, the main benefit is, I feel much happier overall.
Now, that’s not to say I find positives in every situation. When my Dad died very suddenly, I can’t say I found anything to feel particularly grateful about. I could barely function. However, a few years on, I can see the experience has changed me for the better. I have a deeper level of empathy and understanding towards other people, which just didn’t exist before. Obviously, I wish my Dad dying had never happened – but I guess as it did, I’m grateful I learnt something along the way.
What is a gratitude practice?
Gratitude practice involves regularly paying attention to the good around us, such as being around nature, meeting friends and time spent with family.
It’s looking out for those small moments and feeling grateful for them. The cheery smile from a stranger or enjoying a really nice meal.
Happiness is a feeling we can cultivate. So the more regularly we practice feeling grateful, the more aware we become of the good around us and the happier we feel.
Most of us take our lives for granted (a roof over our head, regular access to food, good health) and we forget to recognise it. Gratitude helps us remember this and all the other positives in life.
The science behind gratitude
There is a lot of science behind practising gratitude and the benefits it brings to both our physical and mental wellbeing. Researchers have found it helps with sleep, moods and overall physical health.
There is also evidence that it retrains our neural pathways in the brain. Our neural pathways carry messages to and from the brain and are created by learnt behaviour so most of the time we don’t know we’re doing it. They’re not just physical responses, but emotional and behavioural too.
Think about when you cross the road. In my case, I’m generally listening to music or a podcast and am pretty much in a world of my own. However, I still know to press the button and wait for the green man before I cross. I’m not diving into the road because I’ve done this task so many times my brain knows what to do.
Ever felt anxious when you know you’re going to have to navigate a tricky conversation? That’s because your brain knows this might result in conflict and so has sent that message to the brain and your emotions are heightened.
In the same way, if you’re always noticing negative events and situations, then your brain starts will send messages as soon as these things take place so you’re more aware of them.
By focusing on feeling grateful when good things happen, then your neural pathways will send happier messages and you’ll be more aware of the positives in life instead.
4 ways to practice gratitude
Here are 4 ways, I practice gratitude.
1. I follow a process I learnt by reading ‘the Magic’ and keep a gratitude journal where I write out 10 things I feel grateful for and the reasons why. I then read it back and say ‘thank you’ 3 times.
2. I use an App called Gratitude Plus. This sets a daily reminder, which prompts me to fill it in. This is great for being on the go and I use it on my commute.
3. I try to pause throughout the day and feel grateful for small moments.
4. I reflect on the day before I go to sleep and pick out things that happened which I feel grateful for. It takes seconds and is a really nice way to end the day.
Please note, I’ve included links to Amazon for books that I’ve read. I’m not not suggesting you use this store over another – it’s just to be helpful.