Writing this on Thanksgiving is appropriate as it is a day when many of us do focus on our blessings. But what about the other days of the year?…I would guess not unless the habit is being nurtured.
We are genetically programmed to scan our environment for threats to our survival. Maybe it is not a Wooly Mammoth chasing us anymore but perhaps it is a job that is not secure and threatens our survival in that way. So the worriers of the past have survived and passed down this trait. Our bodies cannot decipher old school threats from the modern ones. This fact has us look at the negative in sharper focus than the positive.
We can create new habits and influence our outlook in a meaningful way. My love affair with the brain has to do with how, with some help, it can be shaped and molded in beneficial ways to live better, more peaceful, happier and healthier lives. The neuroscientists call this phenomenon plasticity.
The research is clear- expressing gratitude has benefits proven by science; psychological, physical and social benefits. A 2005 study (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson) concludes that keeping a gratitude journal causes less stress, improves sleep quality and builds emotional awareness. Many other studies find additional benefits that are just a Google away!
As a life coach, I offer texting or emailing in between sessions as part of the package. These communications offer brief encouragement and are in no way meant to replace sessions. I have clients now who send me a daily text of gratitude in their lives. It is a perfect way for them to stay accountable until the habit is firm and more automatic.
It should take no more than two minutes a day to jot down one to three positives. Writing it down in detail helps but is not necessary.
So the question I have received is what if there are simply no positives. I would gently disagree and say there always is, if one digs deep enough. In the midst of a very difficult divorce, which is now an amicable situation, I was at a low point. Extremely low. In my driveway, I was sitting in my car on a cold, gray winter day feeling lost. It began to snow big, beautiful fluffy flakes, the kind that float. Amidst my fear and grief, I saw beauty and I felt joy. All those things could exist together. I picked up a mandarin I had on the passenger seat and slowly peeled it and ate it sweet and tangy section by sweet and tangy section. It gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to help my children and I through a tough time. And I vowed to be grateful for the simple things when the big things seem daunting. Begin small. A pen that writes well. A warm bowl of soup. A smile from a stranger or a loved one. And build upon it. The more we seek out the positive, the more it seems to seek us.
After a Thanksgiving filled with love and laughter and scrumptious food, I felt ridiculously blessed when my little dog Darth, curled up on my lap and gave out one of his signature contented sighs.
Start today. Start simply. And watch the blessings stack up.