There are several hardships that we face in life, illness, the loss of a loved one, abuse, losing a job, financial instability, tragic disasters and much more. There are big and small things that will inevitably happen to you, but between these events, there will be sweet moments of reprieve, the ones that fill your heart with joy and your mind with positivity, the ones that we should show gratitude towards.
According to Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude studies, there are two key components for why gratitude is good for us. “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.” Second, he explains, “We recognise that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset, gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” It’s so easy to get caught up in the negativity of life, but learning how to recondition your brain for positive thinking can help you recognise the good that we take so easily for granted.
But why is being grateful so important?
Gratitude comes with a shift in mindset, by appreciating what you have instead of what you don’t. When you practice giving thanks, you embrace positivity and feel more intentional towards life. Your mindset shifts to appreciate the little things that bring joy to your life and not the other way round. What you be grateful for grows and increases in value, your relationships, your work, your health and life become dearer to you. An attitude for gratitude increases your self-confidence and self-esteem, allowing you to be mindful of the present moment and enjoy it to the fullest. It also helps you regain your mental strength to face the tasks of your day head-on.
However, finding reasons to show gratitude doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly from now on but rather it means you’re exercising more positive control over your life, making it what you want it to be. It’s your choice to perceive whether the glass is half full or half empty.
How do you rewire your brain for positivity?
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections, this could be both positive or negative. By rewiring your brain, you can relook at old habits and focus more on positive growth and change. Unfortunately, we possess something called negative bias, a tendency to be more caught up with negative stimuli than positive. This is defined best by Mark Hoelterhoff, PhD, a positive psychology expert who explains that during our evolutionary period, our brain developed an enhanced sense of awareness of potential threats and risks. This was to keep us safe and predict unfortunate events.
But this negative bias can be offset with positivity if we move towards focusing on the joyful aspects of our lives. The simplest and most practical way to change your mindset is to savour the moment. For example; if you hear positive news, receive positive feedback or have a positive thought, stop for a minute and reflect upon it. This savouring approach creates a new brain connection, a neural network that looks for the positive in situations rather than the negative.
How can you develop mature gratitude?
If a global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the fact that anything can happen at any time. Rather than dwelling on our sorrows, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to count our blessings. These times also emphasised the necessity for positive psychology and how our mental health isn’t immune to adverse scenarios. However, to cope with distressing times, we need to acknowledge that suffering is a part of living and to achieve sustainable wellbeing, we need to embrace weaknesses to push towards our growth.
Gratitude is twofold; it has a horizontal dimension as well as a vertical dimension. In the horizontal dimension, gratitude proposes thankfulness for materialistic and naturalistic objects, the expected and unexpected situations and the people we interact with. In the vertical dimension, gratitude places emphasis on cosmic power, gratitude to God or spiritual gratitude that comes with being grateful for your ancestors or old spirits but also for music, for art, for knowing that you are a part of something big. The vertical dimension is considered to be mature gratitude.
Below are 3 ways in which you can cultivate mature gratitude in your life.
1. Acts of kindness
According to Louisa Jewell, founder and president of Canadian Positive Psychology Association and author of “Wire Your Brain for Confidence,” performing random acts of kindness or even witnessing them can make us feel good. It’s a symbol of prosocial behaviours and cooperation, it inspires our faith in the goodness of people. Plus, a small act can inspire someone else or you even to show kindness in return. It puts focus on doing good for others rather than focusing on yourself.
2. Giving thanks
Gratitude is shifting your mindset but being thankful is a habit, a practice that you control every single day. Those who stay thankful feel more focused and grounded, ready to weather any storms because their sense of self and their awareness of the present is strong. The pandemic taught us that maybe we’re focusing on the wrong things, maybe we’re being grateful for insignificant moments when instead it’s the little things that count, the moments spent laughing with family, a quiet dinner with your partner, the times when you feel a real connection with nature.
3. Savouring moments
We control our life experiences by focusing our attention on something, good or bad. But if you wish to cultivate happiness, it’s extremely important to pay attention to what you’re focusing on. To look for happiness, you need to relook at yourself and how you’re directing your attention. A little redirection never hurt anybody. Focusing on the good, the moments, the people, will evoke a sense of gratitude. However, start small. The warmth of the sunlight, the changing colours of the leaves, the smell of the earth when it first rains, these little moments can help redirect your attention towards the positive.
A great way to be aware of the present moment is to practice mindfulness.
Here are a few simple ways you can practice gratitude depending on what works best for you.
1. Gratitude journaling or writing
2. Expressing what you are thankful for on social media
3. Sharing how thankful you are for someone over a sweet message
4. Daily writing down three things that you are grateful for
5. Starting a “gratitude jar”
6. Creating a vision board of all the things that you’re grateful for
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