I did an interesting experiment almost 8 years ago when I was trying to heal a bunch of different issues. One day I decided to stop worrying about how to ‘fix’ myself and took 1 month to just focus on gratitude practice ideas and delight. Shortly after that month, I got my cycle back after 5 years without it, and soon after that, I got pregnant, which is what I had been trying to do for two years.
I experienced firsthand the healing power the emotional energy of gratitude has on the body and mind
generating this emotion:
- physically rewires the brain so your automatic thoughts and reactions to life change from focusing on what’s wrong to focusing on what’s right. In the book ‘Grateful Brain,’ author Alex Korb talks about how our brain is conditioned to function in a repeated way. For example, a person who worries too much about the adverse outcomes will subconsciously re-wire his brain to process negative information only. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves
- generates neurotransmitters: when we express gratitude our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions that make us feel ‘good’. It’s an interesting question. . . is a deficiency in neurotransmitters causing our depression and anxiety? Or is it the lack of thoughts and actions that produce neurotransmitters causing the deficiency? It’s helpful to know we can intentionally do things to help our brain make the neurotransmitters we want to have more of
- activates the parasympathetic nervous system so your body can heal and rejuvenate anything that is out of balance
I also know that when you are in a rough season, it can be hard (and even annoying) to try and think of what you are grateful for.
When it seems as if nothing is how you want it to be and just making it through the day is hard, people telling you to just focus on what you are grateful for can be discouraging.
I’ve been there, multiple times.
I am also not an advocate for forced gratitude.
Instead of the standard “write 5 things you are grateful for every day”, I like to spice it up with questions that cause me to reflect on gratitude in areas I was blind to before.
When you hit a season where a gratitude practice just isn’t working, try these ways to change it up and get you thinking. . .
Gratitude Practice Ideas
Think about what you didn’t get. . .
I think about the offers we put on multiple houses that got denied, I was devasted because I was so desperate to move anywhere but where I was. But looking back now, I am radically grateful those offers didn’t go through because the place we live now is 100x better.
I think about book proposals that got denied. Again, what felt like a major blow actually turned into something I am so glad didn’t happen because of the clarity and confidence I have in the book that is going to be published (this year!).
We often see setbacks or unfulfilled desires as losses or failures, but what if these “missed” opportunities create space for something greater?
Think about what you don’t like. . .
Having a gratitude practice or journal can turn into either a. writing/thinking the same things every day (family, health, house) or b. when trying to think of something new you are grateful for, it tends to be things that are not necessarily doing major work on your neural networks or changing the way you experience reality.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for your dog, your view, and your cup of coffee too, we need to love the little things BUT THE BIGGER GOAL is to change the way you see really hard, hopeless, or mundane things. The bigger goal is to make what you automatically see in the world, yourself, and people good instead of bad.
Yeah. How do you do that?
Beyond focusing on what I am grateful for, I think about what area I am struggling with. Then, I think about what I could possibly be grateful for or already have in that specific area.
Example. If I am not loving my body for whatever reason, I think about what I love about it. If I am having health symptoms I think about what IS going right in my body. If someone in my life is driving me crazy, I think about what I DO like about them. If I am not doing what I wish I could be doing with my time, I think about what I AM doing that I love in the day. If I am feeling lack in any area (money, time, relationships) I focus on what I do have in any of those areas.
Intentional redirection of your automatic thoughts to train them to automatically go where you want them to in the future is all about repetition.
Think about the hard times. . .
Even though we are wired to run from pain, tension, or anything uncomfortable, we need to realize that growth happens amidst discomfort.
It’s not about trying to be positive or find a silver lining in painful and challenging situations, it’s about realizing that they can serve a purpose and can change you in ways you would not have changed without them.
Losing my daughter was my worst nightmare, there’s no sugarcoating that. And. I am beyond grateful for how her life changed me in ways nothing else could. She set my life on an entirely new trajectory that is different (and better) than where I was going.
If plants were not pruned, they would not grow as big and beautiful as they could be. If gold were not refined, it would not be as pure, wanted, valuable, beautiful, or sought after.
Being burned is painful. Being cut back hurts and looks like you lost what you have worked so hard to grow, but it’s the best thing that can happen to you, it’s what leads to the more. The better. The beautiful. The eternal.
What makes you uncomfortable? How can it help you grow?
Other Unique Ways to Practice Gratitude
These are other ways I have found to ignite the gratitude energy when I am not feeling particularly grateful. . .
- An appreciation walk: Phone left at home, outside, fresh air, change of environment ? this always shakes my mind up and transforms my thoughts of dread into thoughts of hope.
- Dinner thanks: Try pairing expressing gratitude with something you already do every day. I find before meals is the best way to make this happen. Hearing what other people are grateful for can spark something inside of you too.
- Thank you letter: Taking a minute to write a letter or text to someone expressing what I appreciate about them is always a way to get me to stop thinking about myself and start thinking about the amazing people I have in my life.
- Perspective-shifting music playlist: Create a playlist with all of the songs that change your mood and perspective. You know, the ones where you can’t help but cry, dance, worship, or sing loudly. This is the best tool for when you are feeling low and pessimistic. Trust me, my perspective-shifting playlist (appropriately named ‘feel-good songs’ ) is used often.
- Perspective-shifting video/podcast list: I also have a playlist of podcasts and videos that shift my perspective and get my thoughts back on the right track. When you are in a low place, use other people to lift you back up!
I guess my point is, even when you are feeling lost or like the world is just a dark, overwhelming, hopeless place (we all feel that at times) it’s worth trying different ways to generate the healing emotion of gratitude, it could be the medicine that changes everything.