February’s habit is practicing gratitude, which is timely, as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. The “Hallmark” holidays remind us to appreciate our loved ones, but it may seem silly to “practice” gratitude. It is easy to see the sunsets and enjoy the company that surrounds us when life is flowing smoothly, but mix in having an illness, caring for a sick parent or an ailing child, losing a job, a government shutdown, a house fire, a car accident, a home foreclosure, or death of a partner and suddenly the skies are gray and cloudy. Immense trauma can blind our ability to experience joyful moments.
I often wonder if being an eternal optimist is somehow wired into my DNA. I have certainly encountered permanent pessimists during my travels. Thanks to research and the science of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change has gained more focus in recent years, helping those with depression and other mental and emotional challenges. The book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley reveals the exciting potential of the brain’s capacity (and is a fascinating read).
Very simply, practicing gratitude daily changes the neural firing of the brain and releases “feel- good” endorphins. It also reduces the cortisol output that causes the fight, flight or freeze reaction, which is heightened when we are under stress. If we practice gratitude daily, even 1-5 minutes, we will learn to cope better and can gain some perspective on our life events. What about our day to day woes? Life’s little storms can accumulate and overwhelm us. Will the mindfulness practice of gratitude help at all? The answer is a resounding yes. The small acts of gratitude and kindness that we practice each day are shown to improve equanimity and resilience.
One short-and-sweet method to incorporate this into your busy day is the G.L.A.D. technique developed by David Altman, M.A., LPC. Record one item under each category daily in your journal.
G - Gratitude: Write one basic nugget that you are thankful for today (the sunshine, your spouse, food, a working body).
L - Learn: Write one thing that you learned about yourself today, whether it's a new insight or a little discovery.
A - Accomplishment: Notice something you accomplished today- it may be as simple as a good night’s sleep!
D - Delight: Consider anything that makes you laugh or smile (a bird chirping, a cuddly pet, a funny joke, or the kindness of a stranger).
The G.L.A.D. technique only takes 2 or 3 minutes of your time for some pretty profound changes in your brain.
Practicing gratitude does not lessen the chaos in our lives, it just changes our outlook when we are in the midst of it. It allows us to see all aspects of the situation clearly and respond to others around us with care. It is a life-long practice and isn't always easy, but the small moments we appreciate start to add up in our lives. That is joy!
Still practicing and forever grateful,