After last week’s article about changing habits, I wondered if anyone is planning on making any changes? If you’re wanting to take even smaller steps, today is the first look at one thing you can do that will make a difference to your wellness (both mental, emotional and physcial.) You might have heard of some of them before, but the idea is that making small changes in your life can a big difference. Today’s one thing for wellness is gratitude.
The first thing for wellness
All of these things are designed to be easily built into your day.
This first one comes at the end of your day. You’ll need your favourite pen or pencil and a little notebook. They’ll stay by your bed. Then, each night before you put the light out, note down something that you’re grateful for that day. This becomes your gratitude journal.
Sometimes, it’s a bit tricky to get started, and you might say that you can’t think of anything. This is very natural. If I asked you to write down something that had gone wrong, you’d be right there! Our brains are designed to do this – it’s how our species has survived. However, with a bit of practice, you’ll soon be finding something to be grateful for.
Here are some aspects to get your started. It might be that you’re grateful for an aspect of your health. Perhaps you’re grateful for the beautiful nature you’ve seen today. Are you grateful for a particular person in your life? Maybe there’s a skill or something you’ve read about or learned that you’re grateful for.
Make sure you include why you’re grateful for this thing. Perhaps how it makes you feel. What does it bring to mind? Would you like more of it? Really step into the experience – the clearer you can be, the more neurons in your brain you’ll be stimulating. Include if there’s someone to whom you can express gratitude too.
Why does this work?
Many of you know that much of my work is based on positive psychology. (let me know if you’d like to know more, but you can start by exploring Martin Seligman )
Expressing gratitude is one of the main elements of positive psychology. Some of the benefits include better relationships, more positive feelings, improved resilience, better sleep, lower blood pressure – and there are more. Who wouldn’t like some of that?
Focusing on the good things in life, if only for a few moments, means our brains find it easier to spot the good things in our day – the glimmers of light that reflect good things. Bringing together the neurons that are required for this on a regular, frequent basis means they’re more likely to wire together. This means it’s easier to access these things in the future.
Expressing gratitude also releases lots of feel good brain chemicals such as serotonin and over time, these can have a really positive impact on the body. They’re responsible for feelings of happiness and can regulate the sympathetic nervous system which can trigger a stress response. This can build over time. Whilst a stress response is super useful in the right context (needing to run away or take some other kind of action), but often we get stuck in this mode and this is when our bodies and brains suffer.
Noticing good things
Noticing good things helps us to be solution focused rather than the problems. This builds confidence and resilience.
Some studies have shown that expressing gratitude can regulate the hypothalamus which (amongst other things) can regulate sleep patterns. Also, expressing gratitude before you settle down for sleep means you’re far more likely to feel calmer and more positive during sleep.
Focusing on gratitude can help us stay in the moment and remember the good things and what we DO have, not what we’re missing. This can reduce anxiety. And, you’ll be surprised how quickly things will start to change.
Writing down your thoughts on gratitude isn’t the only way to experience the benefits. Saying thank you to someone personally, making something to gift to someone to express gratitude are equally beneficial. In fact, expressing gratitude directly to others can build stronger social connections.
Even appreciating yourself can have positive benefits. When was the last time you took a moment to acknowledge that you eat healthily or give your body enough sleep?
It might sound a bit odd, but next time you feel happy – really notice it and say thank you. Sometimes, those moments can be lost in the hurly burly of life with all those to do lists.
Keeping a gratitude jar will result in a collection of notes that you’ve made about things for which you’re grateful. What a great resource to have!
Remember that happiness comes not as a result of money, fame and fortune (although we all need a basic level to have a basic level of happiness), but of focusing our minds on things/relationships/life we already have. Whilst it’s good to aspire as it’s motivating, remember to take a moment regularly to be grateful for where you’re at today.