This time of year can be a wonderful time to continue our exploration of gratitude and how consciously and purposefully practicing gratefulness can benefit us physically and psychologically by promoting health and healing. (See links at the end for the health impacts associated with gratitude).
This practice can benefit us when we are already happy and when we are stressed and we all know that this time of year can be stressful. Finding a way through times with high emotional charge can be a challenge for any of us.
Gratitude, or thankfulness, is the active affirmation of goodness. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “grateful” as being appreciative of benefits received.
How do we practice gratitude?
Practicing gratitude needs our commitment — actively acknowledging daily (or nightly before we go to sleep) what we are grateful for. We need to keep at it and I provided some tips below.
Why do we need to actively commit to practicing gratitude?
There’s an oddity in how our brain’s tricky little neurons are designed. Our brains are naturally wired to hold onto negative experiences more than positive ones, even to the point of ruminating — the enemy of gratitude and peace of mind.
An article published by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education written by Usable Knowledge Nov. 20, 2017 says, “From a survival standpoint, it makes sense — strong recollection of bad experiences means we’re more likely to learn from mistakes and avoid a life-threatening situation.”
We are ruminating when we get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts about some past hurt — a cycle which increases our stress in the moment and brings us to no helpful resolution to the problem. We just keep going round and round.
Like the snake eating its own tail, we end up right where we began and off we go again on another round. We always feel worse, bummed out or exhausted after a spate of rumination. That creation of discomfort is how it differs from being grateful. (For tips on overcoming ruminating, see last link at the end).
• Keep a gratitude journal. Write down those things on a daily or weekly basis that you are grateful for. It’s nice to do this just before bed.
• Write a gratitude letter expressing thanks and deliver it.
• Savor the good in your life. Reminisce often about the good. Use all your senses to enhance these memories.
Psychologist Rick Hanson suggests the following practice guidelines:
First, think about a good experience you are grateful for.
Next, stay in the memory as long as possible. (This time it’s okay to go over and over it). Use all of your senses to enhance that memory.
Then, bring your attention to what is satisfying, rewarding and enjoyable about that experience. This strengthens brain pathways that hardwire the benefits of gratitude.
Finally, gradually link the positive with the negative memory. If the positive has been strengthened through the previous steps, it can gradually replace the negative.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the negative, stop for a while and restart, leaving out the last step, until you are adept at strengthening your positive memories.
Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider.
Some info above taken from:
Callie Wight is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.