About three years ago, after the challenge of a big life change, I decided to do six months of formal gratitude practice. I bought a journal, and made a big commitment to write what I was grateful for, every day for 180 days. I found a few friends to do it with me, though no one else made it past the first month.
I kept at it, even though some days were a chore, because I could immediately feel the positive impacts it was having on my life.
After a month or so, the most magical thing began to happen. I started to notice, in the middle of an activity, that I would be grateful for it later. I would be surfing, sitting out in the water looking back at the mountains, and I would think, “Oh, I’m going to put this in my gratitude journal tonight”.
Instead of being grateful in retrospect, I started to be grateful within the present moment.
The research on how gratitude affects the brain (and your life) is endless. It has been a hot topic over the last few years and a quick google will bring up blog after blog with tons of awesome info.
My number one favourite article about Gratitude is from the Huff Post. (You can read here).
If you’re a science buff like me, you’ll love how the article explains that it is the search for something to be grateful for spikes dopamine and serotonin in the brain. You don’t even have to find something, you just have to look! (How cool is that?)
The article also reminds us about nueroplasticity, in other words, the brains ability to rewire itself. The more we think grateful thoughts, the more we strengthen the neural pathways in our mind to automatically look for things to be grateful for.
From March 5th to 11th I ran a gratitude challenge within my community. Over 250 people joined the challenge, and we had a facebook group to share what we were grateful for. Most people reported that they had forgotten to appreciate what they already had, and that the week was reminding them that even when life is hard, they could find many things to be thankful for.
The tricky thing is, gratitude only works if you make it a practice. If you had clinical depression and your doctor prescribed you a daily medication to take, you would understand that the medication would only work if you took it everyday, right?
Let’s say you’re in the doctors office and you talk about this great new medication that she is going to give you. You get excited and you come home and talk about it with your family. You tell everyone about this great medicine and all the wonderful things it does when you take it (it changes your life; how powerful!) You put it on the shelf and admire it every morning. But you never actually take it. Will it work? Of course not.
Gratitude practice is the same thing. It can’t just be a theory. We can’t just talk about it and admire how well it works.
Remember I told you that the search for something to be grateful for spikes Dopamine and Serotonin in the body? These are the same chemicals that most antidepressants are designed to regulate. If you want those feel good chemicals in your life, then you have to do the practice. You have to look for things to appreciate, and you have to do it every day.
So… instead of just reading this article, how about forming a plan to change your life by making a commitment to be more grateful?
Here are some ideas:
+ Buy a gratitude journal and start writing in it every night
+ Grab a friend to do a challenge with
+ Add gratitude to part of your teeth brushing routine
+ Have the whole family say what you are grateful for right before dinner (my friends do this with their kids- it’s so cute)
+ Join a gratitude community (If you’d like to know more about my gratitude community and the dates for the next challenge head to kateduncanyoga.com)
HUGELY IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: I am not suggesting you try to replace prescribed medications with gratitude. I am a big advocate of appropriately prescribed modern medicine, and gratitude. They can peacefully co-exist together.