Did you know that gratitude causes multiple areas of the brain to light up like a Christmas tree, triggers our reward pathways, and produces both serotonin and dopamine results similar to Prozac? Or that having a gratitude practice improves metabolism, sleep, and mental health? It does. (Source below if you’re a cynic/like reading scientific studies.)
But gratitude isn’t an emotional by-product of fortunate events showering upon you like unicorn kisses. It’s a muscle. And just like you can’t get killer abs without doing at least one plank, we can’t expect to feel grateful when we haven’t wired our brains to practice it.
Here are three simple ways to begin a gratitude practice, and start working that muscle.
- Gratitude Journals. Of course, you can just buy a journal and pen things you’re grateful for at day’s end, but when you’re still trying to form the habit, I personally love the Five Minute Journal. This journal is great when you’re getting started, and might benefit from some guidance. Each page holds clear fill-in-the-blank prompts for morning and night, and takes, as the name implies, no more than five minutes a day.
- Write someone a thank you note. How often in your day do you hear “thank you”? Expressing gratitude for someone is a fantastic, radical phenomenon where they feel good, loved, and seen, and YOU feel good, loved, and seen, because you’re remembering the awesome thing you’re thanking them for while you’re thanking them. (I believe you can file that note under Win,Win.)
- #SeeBeautyEverywhere. This is a campaign I began on Instagram years ago when I was debilitatingly sick, and began reading the work of Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. He said the only way he survived the concentration camps was to try and find the beauty in all things, even the fishbone water they fed him. Since then, I’ve made it a point to notice the beauty around me. The way the sun plays through the translucent hull of my water bottle. The flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk. The majesty of a perfect spiderweb. Sometimes, the simple act of noticing what’s beautiful overrides the louder undercurrent of worry, anxiety, or stress.
Developing this gratitude muscle is important. We’re biologically programmed to pay more attention to the bad things. This means our animal brains have been wired to focus on what is loud and scary and dangerous, so we can remember to avoid, say, touching a hot solder pic (recent me) wearing polka dots with flowers AND rainbow stripes to school (younger me), or traipsing past a lion’s den with wild abandon (probable-ancestor me). This doesn’t mean we’re cursed as a species to wallow in fear and negativity. It just means that now, along with getting out of bed and brushing your teeth twice a day, we need to add new rituals that benefit our body, mind, and emotional well-being.
I hope this article brought value to your life. I’m grateful that you’re here, reading these words to the end. And I hope together, cheesy as it may sound, that together, we can make the world a more beautiful place.
Join me and the #SeeBeautyEverywhere movement over on Instagram and begin making beauty loud. Every other post of mine features a shot from nature I find beautiful, along with a quote that inspires me. I hope to see you there!