I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness—it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
- "You need to be more grateful"
- "Try a gratitude journal"
- "You should be more appreciative"
Sound familiar? Like me, I'm sure you've been hearing statements like these a lot lately. The media is flooded with ways we can be happier and improve our well being and gratitude journals are all the rage.
Scientific research tells us that repeated thoughts create neural pathways. If you have ever gone shopping for a car, you know this is true.
Let’s say you are interested in buying a white Toyota Prius. Once you start thinking about it, you start seeing them everywhere—how did you not notice this before? Everywhere you look, there’s a white Prius!
Just as when your mind is occupied with searching for a specific car, when you are looking to identify positive things in your life, the deeper and more pronounced those neural pathways become. And soon, you will be noticing positive things everywhere in your daily life.
Starting a gratitude journal sounds like a big commitment. I know because, even though I had read of the many benefits, I put off starting one.
On July 1, 2016, I decided to take the leap. It happened to be my daughter’s fourteenth birthday. This made my first entry easy - I was grateful for my daughter's existence. Every day, I write in a small journal, three things for which I am grateful. I have not missed a day.
At first, it wasn't so easy for me to find three things each day. I found myself at the end of the day, trying to run through the day's events and activities to scrounge up three things. But, over time, a funny thing happened. I found myself actively looking all day long for my gratitude entries. I was faced with an abundance of gratitudes each and every day.
For those of you who prefer to use technology, check out the free app, 3 Good Things, which includes a daily notification feature if you're worried about forgetting. While this is a very basic app, there are other options with more bells and whistles, so find what appeals to you.
A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE
Over time, I started noticing things that I used to take for granted: fluffy clouds, the beauty of fresh snow on the trees, intense fall colors, my loving dogs, the greenest green the day after a hard rainfall, my husband and kids helping without being asked, and accidents that didn't happen (but were near misses).
Some days I write about the beautiful light through the trees or how grateful I am to swim in an outdoor pool in the summer. Nothing earth shattering; simple appreciation.
With some practice, your brain starts to look for the positive in things…it becomes a reflex. So, even if you feel like you were born or raised a pessimist, you can start to see your cup as being half full and even overflowing. I feel that having done this for a year now, my brain has been rewired from looking critically at most things (this is good, but how could it be better?) to appreciating more things and people just the way they are.
While non-believers may think it's all a lot of fluff, I disagree. Each time I have added another concept based in positive psychology, I find myself amazed at how small changes can have such a tremendous impact. While I'm only going to discuss my gratitude journal experience in this post, over the next year, I promise to share more great positive psychology concepts with you!
A SIMPLE ADD-ON
At Thanksgiving, I mentioned my gratitude journal to my nephew, Corey, who is also interested in positive psychology. He was pleased to hear that I was writing daily in a gratitude journal and challenged me to also include one thing that I do for someone else each day.
From holding a door open, to offering a compliment or paying for a friend's lunch, each day is filled with opportunities to offer a small (or big) act of kindness to someone else.
So, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, in addition to my three gratitudes, I write down one thing that I have done for someone else.
Believe me - this daily small act is helping me to be a better person!
What daily habits do you practice that have a great impact with only a small effort? Please share in the comment section below.
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