“Be Thankful” was a saying that would be met with feelings of frustration for me. Especially when I felt like there was so much going on that was unpleasant, that feelings of gratitude just seemed completely inaccessible. But it is in those moments of hopelessness that it is our duty to ourselves to consciously bring gratitude forward in our minds.
See, we as humans have an innate negativity bias. We are hardwired to see the negative more prominently and may also dwell on these events. Also known as positive-negative asymmetry, the negativity bias means that we feel the sting of a criticism more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise. Indeed this may have served as a great trait for our ancestors to ensure protection and survival. But that level of protection can be misguided into a chronic state of fight/flight. We can dip into extremes of anxiety or depression.
Gratitude journals are a means of countering this bias. You train the brain to become more aware of opportunities for gratitude. When you sink into those feelings, gratitude acts like a doorway being unlocked in the brain and neurotransmitters of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins flooding the body and shutting off the fight/flight response. This allows the body a chance to rebalance through the relaxation response. When done repetitively, such as with a daily gratitude practice, you begin to strengthen those neural connections and pathways to DOSE chemistry—the body’s natural antidepressants and pain-relievers.
Gratitude, to me, is a choice. It’s training the mind to find gratitude even in the darkest places. 2020 is one of those years where many have been met with challenges unlike any they’ve experienced before. 2018 was my 2020, and although this year has no doubt been difficult, that perspective of knowing how much worse it could be has allowed me access to gratitude through it all. This year has been rich with opportunity to break out of comfort zones, to face fears head on, for self-development and evolution. Each time we move through unpleasant experiences, we are often led towards growth.
I challenge you today to choose gratitude, wherever you can find it. 🍁