What if you could change one thing and feel better? Gratitude still tops the polls in the ‘best changes’ category.
Neuroscience agrees with Cicero’s take on gratitude. This Roman philosopher (d. 43 BCE) was an astute politician, a lawyer and gifted author, who believed that gratitude is the greatest virtue. Scans show brains thrive on it.
What is gratitude? Well, some describe it as a fleeting feeling, a sort of transient emotion. Others see it as a trait – part and parcel of someone’s character. What if it’s a blend of both? Something you attune to and enjoy spontaneously. Let’s not be stingy with gratitude when it’s got so much to give.
Studies show real mental health benefits. I love it and grab every chance to enjoy it. Simply feeling gratitude gives the brain a rush of feel-good Dopamine. Often a smile breaks out right along with it. Maybe it’s big, a special occasion or a surprise present. Mostly though, it’s small things that count.
A sunny morning, a shared moment with a stranger in a queue, letting you go ahead when you’ve only got a few bits. Best of all, it’s that first cup of coffee, a handy parking space, a fur baby welcome home, clean sheets. There’s a whiff of Danish hygge about it. Maybe it’s because I like to savour and enjoy the sheer delight of the moment fully.
Does gratitude need to be expressed?
I’ve welcomed babies into the world and shared the exquisite joy of birth, after infertility and loss. I’ve sat in grey dawns, stroking a clutching hand as life ebbed away. I’ve listened to stories of yearning and despair. I’m grateful to help bring relief and restore hope. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, inside of me.
It’s positively contagious! Gratitudinal people make others feel better. They notice good stuff, remember it and talk about it. Bitching, moaning and whining change nothing and dampen spirits quicker than news of a utilities price hike. The brain spins negative worry stories if left to its own devices. The trick is not to get caught up in them.
How do you do it?
Gratitude needs a bit of ‘doing’ at first. The busier you keep your brain with gratitude stories, the less room for worry scenarios to bloom. Mindfulness comes into the picture. Simply notice the flow of thoughts in your head for a start, without going all judgy. Most of those thoughts are repeats. Find something to be grateful for.
Focus on it, hold onto it. Learn to be grateful for you. You. As you are, right now. Think a kindly thought about yourself. Imagine you are mother to yourself. Loving you, for being you. It’s easier to notice what’s wrong and lacking – and clock up resentments. A reality check helps. On a scale of 1-10 how bad is it, right now? This minute? I believe we forget to be grateful for being ourselves in this body, living life here and now.
Precious little happens without goals and targets. Especially in work. Expecting things to pan out as planned doesn’t happen reliably. Real life is messy and desperately unfair. Expectations set the bar high, stifle spontaneity and steal gratitude. Grateful people seem to have a knack of letting things to fall into place and being ok with it.