Why Gratitude Is Great
The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.
But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain the feeling. I believe that’s because so many of us are trained to notice what’s broken, what’s not working or what’s lacking in our lives.
We do this constantly, without noticing the negative impact or giving it a second thought. That’s why I call this the “ordinary negativity of the mind.”
In fact, this ‘ordinary negativity’ is actually your brains’ way of trying to keep you alive. You see, the brain has evolved to look for problems and danger. It’s focused on things that need fixing and for potential threats in your environment. Ultimately, your brain’s highest priority is to keep you safe and free of problems.
And this hyper-vigilance to threats and problems has helped our species survive in dangerous environments. Furthermore, it has enabled us to design a world that is much safer.
However, our brain continues to have the same bias towards scanning for threats. And that comes with a downside. Because our world is far safer these days, and it could be argued that the emphasis on the negatives doesn’t help us survive – it just makes us miserable.
That’s why we need to consciously shift gears into appreciation mode. Especially if we want gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives. Our practice needs to become more than an occasional thing if we are going to learn a new way of looking at things and establish a complete mindset shift. It has to become habit.
But creating a new habit can be hard to achieve. So let’s look at why starting new habits can be difficult…
The Habit Making Machine
The reason is because the brain is so busy processing information, that it will only create new neural pathways (habits) for things that it decides are super important.
For that reason, if you don’t give gratitude much attention, then your brain will not register it.
Instead the brain will assume:
“This gratitude thing is not a priority for our survival; so let’s not waste time and energy creating a brand new brain pathway to support this practice. Instead, let’s put more time and energy in maintaining those negative thinking neurons!!”
And so the unhelpful old pattern is reinforced and the new positive approach doesn’t get out of the gates.
That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense.
For when we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.
More importantly, as far as the brain is concerned, gratitude that is practiced regularly gets a priority listing. Essentially the brain says: “This seems important so let’s lay down some neurons for this!” And a new habit is created.
At first you’ll need to make an effort to think grateful thoughts. But within a few weeks this will start to become more automatic for you, and life will begin to look and feel different.
MSG: Enhance The Flavour of Gratitude
If you really want to amplify some of the benefits of gratitude, then try some M.S.G. or Multi Sensory Gratitude.
What exactly is Multi Sensory Gratitude?
Well you know how your senses feed directly into your brain? What that means is, anything that engages multiple sense organs will register more highly in your brain and will also trigger multiple locations in your brain. And this is why the research indicates that anything that engages more than one sensory channel will propel the brain to create stronger neural pathways.
So, it stands to reason that the best way to increase the positive results of your gratitude practice, is to include as many senses as you can in your practice.
Listen to my explanation in the video below…
Let’s take an example
Say you start off writing a list of 3 or more things to be grateful for each day. You can bring in some M.S.G by closing your eyes and visualising each of those things individually. And as you do that, you could actually bring to mind the feelings or physical sensations associated with those things.
For example, the first thing on your list might be the ocean. So you write it down, and bring it to mind. That’s positive. But then you close your eyes and see the ocean – that’s going to take you to a whole new level. Then you feel yourself in the ocean; the movement of the waves, the turquoise-blue colours, the sand beneath your feet, the lightness you feel in your body. Then you remember the fresh smell of the ocean, and you begin to taste the saltiness on your lips. You remember how your skin feels after you get out of the water. The rough towel on your skin as you dry off.
Do you think your experience of appreciation has gone up now??
What about sounds? Maybe you can bring those in to round-out the full sensory experience of gratitude… Basically, make it feel as real as possible and amplify all those benefits of the practice AND increase the likelihood you will keep up the practice because you have told the brain: Prioritise this!
More Ways To Add M.S.G.
I am not a fan of flavour enhancers – except when it comes to creating a more fulfilling life. Then I say, “Go all out!”
Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to enhance and deepen our experience of appreciation is to take it to the source. If you are grateful for someone, tell them, spend time in their company, and notice all the things you appreciate about being with them.
If you are grateful for the forest, go and be in it. And while you are there you can rejoice in the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes of the forest.
Let’s say that the beautiful, healthy food you eat is something you regularly want to give thanks for, then why not do it while tucking in to a meal or just before a meal?
Okay, what if you can’t take it to the source? Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to enliven your practice.
For instance, you could try saying your gratitude list out loud, or even turning it into a silly song, to engage the auditory channel.
Or perhaps you could play with walking around and pointing at the things you feel grateful for, which targets both visual and kinaesthetic senses.
You could draw the things you feel grateful for, or you might try sharing your gratitude in a group or with a partner or friend, or even on social media.
These are just some suggestions, but I encourage you to get creative with it and definitely add some M.S.G to spice your gratitude up!
Get The Balance Right
Keep in mind that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach. For instance, you don’t want to whitewash or ignore the difficult things in life. It’s more a matter of where you put your focus and attention.
Pain and injustice exist in this world, and we need to proactively deal with our challenges. But when we also remember to focus on the gifts of life, in amidst the difficulties, we gain a feeling of well-being.
Gratitude balances us and connects us to hope and to joy; appreciation allows us to feel more connected and to see what is working in our lives.
There are many things to be grateful for: warm Spring weather, legs that can walk, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, fresh eggs, sunshine, rainwater in the tank, home grown tomatoes, the ability to read, the scent of a rose, our health (to whatever extent we have it), butterflies and gentle breezes.
What’s on your list?
The Ritual of Gratitude
If you want to reap the benefits of gratitude, then as we talked about above, we need to do it regularly and consistently. Here are a few ideas for how to create a ritual that’s easy to follow:
Keep a Gratitude Journal – in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Greater frequency will be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way as you go through your day.
I write down a minimum of 3 things a day that I am grateful for…and if I am inspired to write more, then I can! Also, so that gratitude is automated in my life, I have chosen to make it a part of my morning routine.
That way, I don’t have to think about it, it just gets done at the start of each day. On top of that, I include gratitude in my morning meditation. That gives me a double dose at the start of each day.
Use Technology – if technology is more your thing, then try putting a few key things you are thankful for into your phone as a reminder or screen saver. Or set a timer to remind you to practice your gratitude for just a minute a couple of time each day.
There are also some great apps for relaxation and meditation, and many include guided gratitude visualisations, talks and meditations. Try the ‘Insight Timer’ app on this page.
In the examples above, I am tapping into the brain’s natural functions to power up your gratitude practice. How I’m doing that is suggesting that you try and link the new habit you want to strengthen, to an existing habit.
That’s because your current habits are already deeply entrenched in your brain. As a result, your brain actually favours these routes, which are like electrical superhighways through your mind. When you get on a superhighway, you don’t have to think too hard about the activity, you just do it.
That’s why you can drive to work sometimes and when you arrive, you realise you were barely conscious of the trip! The journey has become so familiar, it’s automatic, freeing your mind to focus elsewhere.
Now you can see why it makes sense if you practice gratitude on your morning commute or while brushing your teeth or standing in the shower. By pairing new habits with old, you effectively harness the power of an existing super-highway in your brain. You will find this much easier than trying to establish a whole new routine just for the purposes of giving thanks for all your blessings.
So link up your gratitude with one of your existing superhighways!
Still More Ways To Be Grateful
Finally, if after a few weeks or months you start to get stuck for ideas on what to add to your gratitude list, try these ideas:
a. Repeat things (I almost always include my dog Harry or the amazing food I get to eat)
b. Make a list of things that all start with the same letter.
c. Think of qualities to do only with yourself.
d. Select things from your immediate environment.
e. Focus on the people in your life.
f. Think of stuff you usually take for granted (like breathing, roads, shoes, pegs)
g. Choose experiences you have had in the past (such as travel, memorable moments or bucket list activities).
As you continue to practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how much more content and hopeful you are feeling.
That sense of fulfilment is gratitude at work.