journaling gratitude

The Thanksgiving holiday presents a great opportunity to concentrate on all the things in our lives that make us grateful. Sure, there’s plenty to gripe about, but it’s important we remember to focus on all the wonderful stuff that makes our lives better. It’s good for your spirit, it’s good for your mood, and it’s even good for your brain.

Scientists have found that good ole “attitude of gratitude” actually re-wires our brain and nervous system. Gratitude can increase your neurotransmitter dopamine—that thing that gives people the “runner’s high.” In one study, subjects who showed more gratitude had heightened levels of activity in the hypothalamus, which controls lots of essential bodily functions (eating, drinking, sleeping) and impacts metabolism and stress levels. Being grateful literally does a body good! (Not to mention your new business or career!)

Dr. Robert Emmons a leading authority in the field of positive psychology notes, “scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions, philosophies and ancient teachings have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue and an integral component of health, wholeness and well being.”

You can actually train yourself to look for happiness rather than focusing on the negative. A “gratitude practice” will help you embrace what you already have, what’s already pretty awesome, and help you stop concentrating on what’s wrong instead of all the things that are so right. It can also help you give up that never-ending and never-satisfying relentless pursuit of perfection. Constantly comparing oneself to others or some crazy impossible standard is exhausting and can be severely debilitating, even immobilizing.

A “gratitude practice” is simple: it’s about routinely identifying and celebrating all the people and things that make you happy. They can be small, like delighting in your new striped socks, New Girl re-runs, the bus coming right away; or they can be big—appreciating your family, your friends, the ability to read, an A+ on your Calculus test or heating on a cold day. Just going outside and taking a walk can generate lots of things for which we can feel grateful: a sunset, autumn’s gorgeous changing leaves, a perfect cup of cocoa. The important thing is, no matter what, there is always, always, something for which to be thankful.

One way to help yourself ‘accentuate the positive’ is to start a “Gratitude Journal”. You can do it on your computer or iPad, but I like the idea of getting a beautiful notebook to write in, something with a lovely color you can touch, and hold, and cherish.

Every day list 3 -6 things for which you feel grateful. (You needn’t limit it to 6 –you can do as many as you want!) Our days can get hectic pretty quick—so try journaling every morning when you wake up or every night before you go to bed. Some people like to challenge themselves to come up with new entries every day, without ever repeating an item. That may sound hard, but you’ll find it’s a great way to help you really go deep or look around and notice how many, many things there are that give you pleasure, beauty, security, or comfort.

For those who want a “masters” in gratitude, you might try adding things that you did or recognized—every day—that make you feel grateful and proud. It’s your own private journal, so go ahead and “brag.” It’ll make you feel good, and help you realize how much you have to offer and how much you do that deserves your attention and pride. It can really help put things in perspective when you’re feeling down on yourself.

Researchers have found that a daily dose of gratitude results in higher levels of enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy. Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress. Those who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives, and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week.

This Thanksgiving, let’s remember all the wonders that can make our lives easier, better and beautiful-er.  And keeping a “Gratitude Journal” will help you to live in awareness of how much in the world is just freaking GREAT all year-round!

For more on what gratitude can do for you, check out: /gratitude-success/