Gratitude for the people!
2018 was a complicated year, to say the least. I personally experienced significant loss and frustrations, which will probably go perpetually unsolved. But that’s life, remaining in a constant state of preparedness for inevitable and often chaotic change. Rather than focusing on how change can cause upheaval, I chose to pay attention to the lessons and beauty that emerged from the less comfortable aspects of life. I have decided to live in gratitude in 2019.
A few people read that and instantly rolled their eyes. I get it, you literally can’t open Instagram without being confronted with posts featuring silhouetted figures seated in lotus position on a rainbow background with wide open third eyes. I’m not here to tell you that gratitude is simple, and, yes, it may seem a little crunchy, but it will actually make a substantial difference in how happy you are this year.
Sitting in gratitude is NOT about denying the actual horrible things that happen, it’s about gaining balance and focusing on the good things that emerge from life’s less desirable experiences. It’s connecting to that deeper area inside of yourself where you inherently understand that all living creatures are connected, and that learning to appreciate even the most minuscule connection helps you see the grander picture.
Gratitude, like many other activities, helps when it is directly implemented. Keeping a journal filled with the things you are most grateful for has actually been associated with improved physical health, goal attainment, and increased feelings of optimism, according to the leading gratitude researchers Dr. Robert Edmonds and Dr. Michael McCullough. They also found that maintaining daily gratitude practices, things like meditating/thinking about the things you are grateful for, may make it more likely that you will reach out and help others, have a generally more positive attitude, and be more enthusiastic.
Once you start shifting your thoughts in the direction of gratitude, the easier it will get. Let’s walk through a very L.A. example. You come out of your favorite juice bar, and dum-dum-dum you got a parking ticket. Sometimes it seems like you have to have a Ph.D. in parking sign matrices to avoid them, but there it is. The reality of the situation is, yes you will have to adjust your budget to pay it, and that may be very inconvenient, for some, maybe even very difficult. This is the moment where you can begin to practice a shift into grateful thinking. You can start searching for things to be grateful for in this obviously frustrating event. Maybe you are grateful for the job that allows you to pay for the ticket or for having a car in the first place. You can shift your focus to all of the things your car has helped you do and how you can use it to help others. That ticket is just a part of the privilege of car ownership. This is not always a natural way to think, but it is a skill you can begin developing and one that will add happiness to your life.
Here are a few tips to help train your brain in gratitude for 2019:
One key tip for growing in gratitude this year is by building awareness. Awareness is always the first thing I teach. If you are not aware of what’s happening in the present, it is difficult to shift your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Breathing is one of the many activities you do that can tie you to the present moment. It is a great way to begin any mindfulness activity as it increases blood flow to the body and can create perspective. So to start this exercise, sit quietly and take in at least three deep breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth, filling your lungs. Shift your focus to sensations in our body. Do you feel any tension, worry, resentment, joy? Where do you feel these experiences? Do you feel them at all? By beginning to tap into your body at random moments throughout the day, you will become more aware of your states thus more able to identify negative thoughts or states quicker.
Gratitude requires an aspect of accepting things that we do not always like. In radical acceptance you are seeing to avoid suffering by acknowledging that what happened wasn’t optimal in the least, it may have even been tough, but it happened. Ultimately there are those things we cannot control in life and those things we learn to accept and grow from.
Write it out.
Meditating on gratitude is a beautiful practice and yields some impressive results, but nothing beats writing what you are thankful for out. Why does it matter? Your brain processes information better after it’s been written out. Here’s a little gratitude journal I put together.
According to Dr. Robert Edmonds and Dr. Michael McCullough, you don’t have to write a gratitude journal daily. Once a week will do. Write down what you are grateful for in the morning and again in the evening.
Practice makes permanent.
The more you practice something, the more ingrained it becomes in your psyche. What fires together wires together after all. So if you ineffectively practice something, you will ingrain that ineffective pattern into your behavior. You can and do practice thought patterns. The more often you think a thought, the more likely you are to think about it again; no matter if that thought is accurate or inaccurate. So the more you practice grateful thinking, the easier it becomes.