You are wired to focus on the negative aspects of your life because anticipating danger helps you survive. From the perspective of life preservation, this negative lens makes a lot of sense and keeps you and your family safe. However, when this focus on the problematic areas of your life becomes your only way of thinking, it may start to do you more harm than good and lead to stress, depression, anxiety, poor sleep and a host of other stress-based illnesses. Likely, there is a lot that is good in your life that you take for granted and when you focus only on your fears and worries, you miss out on letting joy, contentment and gratitude enter your life. You are just surviving, rather than thriving.
But you can change this! You don’t have to become trapped by your negative thought patterns and habits to the point where they do you more harm than good. Just like going to the gym to keep your body in good health, you can exercise and train your mind to experience greater gratitude and health.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to improve your physical health, mental health, sleep, resiliency and relationships. It makes you a kinder, healthier and happier person. Who doesn’t want that? So here are three ways you can flex your gratitude muscles and cultivate a healthier and more positive outlook on life:
1. Keep a gratitude journal
Get a notebook and write down 3 things that you are grateful for every day. Write in detail about what these things are, how they make you feel and even what your life would be like without them. The more detail and feeling words you use, the more effective this will be! Even if this exercise seems forced or difficult, keep at it. Studies have shown that just the act of keeping a gratitude journal can create big changes in your health.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation
Meditation allows the stress and chaos to settle out of your body and your mind. It allows you to be present, focused and aware of what is going on both inside you and outside of you at any given moment. It gives you the opportunity to notice the thoughts that are going through your head every minute of the day and train your mind to be aware of the present moment. To practice just sit comfortably in a chair or cross-leg on a cushion on the floor. Sit up straight in a relaxed and dignified manner. Notice what it feels like in your body as you breathe. Feel the air moving into and out of your body, wherever it is most noticeable. When you notice yourself thinking, just begin again and come back to noticing your breath. Do this for about 5-10 minutes. After you have practiced meditation for 5-10 minutes, spend another 5 minutes and bring to mind something for which you are grateful. Try to really see this clearly in your mind’s eye and notice how it makes your body feel. Rest a few minutes with the feeling this contemplation creates in your body.
3. Make gratitude part of your daily routine
Thinking and experiencing gratitude doesn’t have to be so formal. You can spend a few minutes thinking about what you are grateful for when you wake up in the morning, before you go to sleep at night or even on your daily walk or while sipping a cup tea. The more you can make it a part of your every day life, the more benefit you will feel.
Like any thing else it life, gratitude takes practice. Even if the practice feels forced in the beginning, keep with it and know that it will have a positive effect just by the very act of trying. There is a lot that we can be grateful for, but it doesn’t have to be the big stuff. No matter how difficult life is right now, you have the power to find at least one small aspect of life for which you are grateful—music, water, the sun, your child, your family, a warm home, a good book, a cup of coffee, the release of a tear, the moment just before you drift off to sleep or a piece of delicious pie. Take a bite of your life—chew slowly—savor it and be grateful.