When someone asks me what one thing they can do to shift their life, without needing to think, ponder, or ruminate in any way, I answer “Gratitude.” When a client asks me how to stay emotionally afloat during a crazy period of time, I tell them to do two things: their gratitude practice and weekly review.
When I am on the phone with a potential client and they beg me for a quick fix to make their life better, happier, or simply more tolerable, I gently and lovingly tell them there is no magic solution, but the number one tool they can bring to their arsenal is gratitude.
Yes, I know we’re months away from November, a time when your Facebook feed is going to be filled with old high school chums and sorority sisters sharing a daily story of gratitude in their life. Gratitude isn’t just a dish served ‘round the table on Thanksgiving.
When served daily, gratitude can fuel your joy, rewire your brain, and shift your entire way of being.
Let me share a little science with you. Studies on how our brains work show that our thoughts create pathways in our brains.
If we tend to go to the negative, those negative pathways grow deeper – think ditches and ruts and such. This means that, especially in times of severe stress and upset, our minds can’t help but send our thoughts to those entrenched ways of thinking.
But let me tell you, darling: even if you’ve spent years with in the negative trenches of your brain, you can change and shift your own natural patterns.
Just as continued negative thoughts create negative pathways, the creation of a regular gratitude practice allows your brain to create new, positive pathways for your thoughts. Over time, the old pathways grow over from lack of regular use.
In other words, while forming new positive streets for your thoughts to travel on in your brain, your brain fills in all those ditches and ruts previously used by negative thoughts.
As your brain becomes used to these new paths for thought, they will become the norm. This means, in times of severe stress, upset, or loss, your brain is more likely to help you find that silver thread. You’ll also recover more quickly.
So, a bit of a confession: I’m a “fact finder”. That means that in order for me to find truth in any type of research, I need to see further proof that the research is valid. Because, as much as I love the pure black and white nature of science, I want more.
When I look at sociological research, such as the work of Brene Brown, I see the evidence that she brings forth from interviews with people who are resilient. Brown began with the assumption that happy people were grateful. What she discovered, however, was that grateful people were the ones that could better access their joy.
When I looked through philosophical texts for evidence on gratitude, I discovered the works of David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. He wrote about the connection to joy and happiness through gratitude more than a decade before Brown’s research. One of my favorite quotes of his:
“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” –David Steindl-Rast
So, I’m going to tell it to you straight up: if you want to be happier and more joyful, then baby, you need to create a gratitude practice of some sort.
Now, I could lay out all the tools in my personal arsenal for creating a life you love. But, baby, that would feel like a fire-hose of information when you wanted a sip from the water fountain.
Yes, I believe that meditation is good for you. Yes, I believe that everyone can go deeper into who they are really meant to be by keeping a journal. Yes, I believe that each of us has both ability and capacity to live life to the utmost of what we deserve on this earth. I know that sometimes, we need to dive a little deeper into ourselves to unlock the magic.
When you’re beginning fresh in awareness that you want more in your life. When you are recovering from a heart-shattering event. When you are feeling that you’ve fallen off the wagon of any sort self-care. You have to begin small.
Begin first with only five minutes a day on gratitude.
Keep it simple. In a small notebook or a on a stack of index cards, each day simply write down three to five things you are grateful for. Every day, so that it becomes a habit. Every day, as a part of your morning or evening routine. Every day, in writing, so that your hand and brain seals the message with your soul that, even on the crappiest of days, there is goodness in your world.
Do this as a practice. As a ritual. As a commitment to your best life. As a sacred act for your own soul.
And I promise you, your life with shift. Your thinking will shift. Your sense of self and confidence will grow. You will strip away the layers you’ve hidden behind and the walls you’ve built to keep others out.
You will create new roads in your brain for your thoughts to travel on.
Your life will become more joyful and happier.
A gratitude practice will help spark the fire within you. It will fuel the alchemical process of transformation into who you were born to be in this world. My darling, you deserve to live a life with ready access to joy and happiness. It begins with gratitude.