Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Printed in the Danville Today News – November 2013

During the holiday season, it seems intuitive to practice gratitude, especially when celebrating a holiday titled Thanksgiving. But how often do you really think about what the word “thanks-giving” means? And how often do you practice giving thanks at times other than the holiday season?

Holiday-GratitudeHaving gratitude – or giving thanks – is one of the core principles of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of living your life with awareness, attention and intention and it offers many tools for decreasing stress and anxiety, while overall improving the quality of your life. The intention of cultivating an attitude of gratitude suggests that the more you focus your attention on the things that you are grateful for, the harder it is to stay entrenched in what isn’t working for you. Gratitude can be an antidote for almost anything that is going wrong in your life. It is important to realize that practicing gratitude does not make the bad things disappear, but it does help change your attitude in how you deal with whatever is arising. This does not mean that you will always find a silver lining in an undesirable experience. However, the more you focus on the negative, the more negative your energy becomes. If you are able to find even a small thing to be grateful for, it helps adjust your perspective and makes it harder to stay in a negative place.

Dr. Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist and author of the books Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness. His research on neuroplasticity (which is the concept that our neural structure has the capacity to change) suggests that we have the ability to use our minds to change our brain. This means that our experiences, including what we think, impact the structure of our brain and therefore affect our implicit way of being. So, the more you focus on something that is negative, neurons fire off and wire together with the nearby neurons, thus strengthening that negative thought further into your neural code. Then you are more likely to operate from that negative place. When you choose to focus on gratitude, those neurons fire off and wire together thus strengthening positivity into your brain, which allows you to implicitly operate from a more positive place.

When practicing mindfulness, you learn to have greater control over your attention of mind, and practice seeing an experience simply for what it is without attaching more meaning behind it. You become able to tell yourself that your experiences are “this, just this.” When doing this, you become more skilled at letting go of things that are going wrong and bringing your mind’s attention to looking for the good around you. When you become more experienced at finding the good, not only are you making a positive, lasting impact on your brain, but you overall feel better. It’s hard to stay angry when you find a reason to smile. You probably won’t dwell on an argument you had with someone when you remember the reasons you love them. It’s difficult to feel that nothing ever goes your way when you acknowledge all the things that are going your way.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude, and practicing it, is something that should occur on a daily basis. Start a gratitude journal. Around the dinner table, talk about all the things that made you happy during the day rather than everything that went wrong. Demonstrate showing your gratitude to the people around you without waiting for a time that requires a Hallmark card. And if you’re having a bad day, find a reason to smile. It’s not going to take away your bad day, but it will begin to help you feel a little better…it couldn’t hurt to try! So allow this holiday season to be an opportunity to strengthen your gratitude, rather than it being the only time you’re aware of it.

If you’d like more information on doing individual work with me, want my current schedule for group classes, or are interested in bringing mindfulness into your workplace, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’d like you to always remember: Take a minute and Just Breathe.

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