Nowadays, many are talking about gratitude and the profound impact that attention to being grateful can have on your well-being. Psychologists have done experiments to show that taking the time to think about what you are grateful for on a consistent basis, increases overall feelings of happiness. But don’t just believe what you read or what somebody else tells you. Test it out for yourself. Do a simple “gratitude experiment”. I promise you, you will not regret it! Over the next week, take five minutes when you wake up in the morning to think about three things in your life that you feel grateful for. You can do it before you get out of bed in the morning, on the mat as an early morning meditation, in the car, or at your desk before you start your workday. When I began working with gratitude, my life was a chaotic mess. I forced myself to sit at the bottom of the stairs and do this exercise before rushing out the front door in the morning! The trick is not to always look for something “grand” that makes a big difference in how you feel. But rather, to think about the simple, small, day-to-day things in life that bring you joy; the little things that often get overlooked because it is easy to take them for granted. For instance, the way your son smiles at you, the beautiful colors of the fall leaves on your front lawn, the comfort of your home, the dear friend in your life, or the delicious meal you had on Thanksgiving Day. Doing this in the morning is a great way to prime the pump for the day. Choosing to give them their due, and on a consistent basis, can be incredibly uplifting and for some people, potentially life altering.
Why does gratitude work? I think because it shifts us into a positive frame of mind. Marianne Williamson, internationally acclaimed author and spiritual teacher said: “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” In our daily lives, we are heavily bombarded both externally and internally by negative stimuli. We listen to the news that focuses on tragedy and catastrophe. In our heads, the negative mind chatter criticizes our efforts, reminds us of what’s gone wrong and leads us to fret about negative things that could happen in the future. Without making a conscious effort to rewire the brain, we are stuck in the negative. The truth is that we are talking to ourselves in our heads and programming ourselves all the time. The question is: Will we do so consciously or will the subliminal voices in our heads run the show? The more under the radar and out of consciousness those voices are, the more power they have.
As a psychologist, I think that gratitude works because negative emotions are banished at the precise moment that we think about the things in our lives that we are grateful for. Two emotions which if they are allowed to run amok can cause us great harm, are fear and anger. These two emotions and gratitude are like oil and water. They simply do not mix. When you are thinking about what you feel grateful for, you cannot feel afraid and you cannot be angry. In fact, gratitude is a fabulous antidote to anxiety and stress. Psychologists know that it is not what happens in your life that impacts your mood the most but rather how you think about what happens to you. So start counting your blessings because they are there and doing this, can turn your life around!