Perhaps at some point you have stood around a Thanksgiving dinner table where the host makes the guests name something they are thankful for.
You rack your brain for something that sounds both earthy and spiritual.
You get nothing.
In fact, all you can think of is the recent terrorist attacks all over the world, global warming, the latest news that everything you eat causes heart attacks, and that recent cancer diagnosis your best friend is grappling with. Nope. Nothing to be thankful for.
It’s at this point that gratitude becomes a discipline; not just a nice idea. We always have something for which to be grateful; but we don’t always have the patience, courage, or discipline to really enter into that higher part of ourselves that vibrates with gratitude and joy even in the most difficult circumstances.
We admire people who live in that space most of the time. We call them enlightened, conscious, or even saints. They inspire us; but they aren’t us. What if, though…? What would it be like if you could become that person through habit and practice? What if you could live in your highest, most authentic self with joy and gratitude; vibrating at such a high energy that stress and germs were afraid of you instead of the other way around?
“Negativity bias” is our brain’s natural home base. It’s our go-to response in a stressful world. We tend to remember the bad while forgetting the good. This served us well for the survival of the human species. We remembered bad things so we wouldn’t repeat them. Pain (whether physical or emotional or both) is a good motivator! But like some outdated computer software, that type of negative, survivalistic (stressed out) thinking doesn’t really serve us anymore.
Now we must learn a new way of seeing the world and interacting with it if we are to become resilient to the stress of living in a post-modern world. The stress of hunting, gathering, and physical survival has been replaced by the stress of a thousand toxins, noise pollution, frustration, processed foods, electric lights that keep us up until all hours, leaky guts, sedentary lifestyles, and a zeitgeist that equates stress with success.
Gratitude Rewires Your Brain
Fortunately, we humans were gifted with amazing brains that are neuroplastic. Basically that means that you can teach an old dog new tricks! Your brain can actually rewire itself by practicing a habit repeatedly. In this case, that habit would be gratitude. And it is a discipline. It is a choice to look around and take in the beauty that surrounds us instead of seeing the ugly. It’s a choice to remember the good and let go of the bad. It’s a conscious decision to find things for which to be grateful each and every day. It’s difficult; but it’s worth it.
Both the New York Times and Forbes magazine recently documented this brain phenomenon. In their timely articles, they showed that gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus—part of the brain that regulates the stress response—as well as the ventral tegmental area of the brain that is in charge of pleasure and reward. This practice of gratitude improves both physical and mental health. Practicing gratitude every day is one of the best ways to increase resiliency to stress because it provides counterbalance to all the negativity and cynicism that surrounds us. You only have one wild and precious life. Instead of spending it stressed out; try practicing gratitude instead.
How To Combat Stress With Gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal for one year. Every day write five things down in the journal for which you are grateful. Only rule? You can’t repeat any of the items for the whole year.
- Each week contact someone who has been a part of your journey; thanking them for their input in your life.
- Every night at the dinner table, go around the table and ask each member of the family what he or she is grateful for this day. Be specific, and avoid the general stuff like, “family, friends, etc.” Encourage answers like, “My friend Jason invited me to his birthday party;” or “I’m grateful mom reminded me to wear my gloves today.”
America's leading stress expert, Dr. Pete Sulack (http://www.drpetesulack.com) is a highly sought-after teacher, lecturer, and author. His studies on the effects of stress, coupled with over one-million patient visits and attention from medical communities led him to write and create Unhealthy Anonymous to help individuals, corporations and non-profits mitigate the immense effects of stress on health and human behavior.