“Gratitude” has become a bit of a modern-day buzzword, hasn’t it! And I think that’s with very good reason.
Our brains can quite quickly fall into what’s called a ‘virtuous cycle’, where one grateful thought leads to another and to another—each rewarded by a dopamine hit—and we begin to more easily and naturally spot the good in the world around us.
Gratitude also dampens negative emotions, because our brains aren’t able to process both the positive and negative simultaneously. That’s why nervous flyers are sometimes encouraged to take a pen and paper on board, and to use the flying time to compose a long list of everything for which they’re grateful. Ramping up the warmth of gratitude helps dampen the negativity and fear.
It’s something that can work when you’re dealing with a difficult person, too—or a challenging situation. Imagine you’re scared of public speaking but you’ve been asked to do a presentation at work. Focusing on the positives—that the experience will help you grow, that it’s a great sign of trust in your ability, that your audience is genuinely curious about your message—is far more powerful and resourceful than focusing on a fear that you might forget your words, or speak too fast, or not know the answers during question time.
Perhaps you’ve seen the current-release movie Inside Out, which delves into how our brains handle emotions, process events and create memories. There are a number of interesting themes in the film, but one is the idea that, every day, we ‘collect’ memories. These roll in and line up in our brains and change the ‘colour’ of how we feel. The more angry we are, or the more disgusted, or sad—the more ‘red’ or ‘green’ or ‘blue’ our wall of memories becomes in that moment.
The reality is that sad and disgusting and infuriating things do happen in life, and when we focus too much on them we create a breeding ground for fear. We come to expect more of the same—we almost ‘invite negativity in’—and there can be a feeling of being stuck in a cycle.
One of the simplest ways to combat negative thinking is to flood it with the opposite. Consciously search for things to be happy about or grateful for and choose to focus on those (even if at first it doesn’t seem to be working).
It’s about creating new neural pathways that actively search for the ‘good stuff’, regardless of what else is going on.
Will you join me in a 7-day gratitude challenge?
I’d love it if you’d have some fun with this, and bring your own flavor to the idea. The only ‘rule’ is to commit to the challenge for the next 7 days. How you unfold the challenge is entirely up to you, and here are some ideas:
- Write in a gratitude journal each day.
- Send a heartfelt thank you to a different person every day for 7 days.
- Find and share a different quote about gratitude each day.
- Buy a book about gratitude and spend some time every day reading it.
- Go for a walk each day and take a camera with you to capture a photo of something you’re grateful for in nature every day.
- Commit to thinking 3 grateful thoughts last thing before you go to sleep each night and 3 more before you get out of bed each morning.
This is all about becoming seekers of the ‘life-affirming’. Consciously look for, notice, record and remember all the things that go right… and you’ll find after a while that the things that don’t go right start to pale behind the growing glow of the good. You’ll find you’re more resilient in times of difficulty and you’re able to get back on your feet more quickly.
Life can be brighter, and it’s up to each of us to shine our torch on the beautiful, the kind, the wondrous and the divine, in order to shape our perception in the direction of ‘positive’.