As we approach the last hours before Thanksgiving, a day when we traditionally name out loud some of the things we’re grateful for, I want to put in a good word for continuing the practice year-round. It can help both your writing life and everything that goes on outside it.
A daily gratitude practice rewires and trains your brain to look for the good things in life. When you do that, you are more likely to find more good things in your life and take the necessary steps to keep that going. Have you had the experience of buying a new car and then suddenly you see that type of car everywhere? The same is true with positive emotions. Naming what you’re grateful for doesn’t cost anything, is totally within your control, and is something you can pause and do almost any time.
Here’s an example. If you can feel grateful for the morning commute to your day job because you get to listen to an audio book, the commute can turn into something you enjoy, something that fills you up instead of something you dread. Then you might notice how often people actually are considerate while driving, instead of the one or two people who are less than considerate. When we spend more time in positive emotion, our brains have more receptors for the neurotransmitters of those emotions, and thus, we will feel positive emotions more often.
I practice gratitude every day by naming the people, places, things, and feelings that I’m grateful for. Sometimes I make a quick mental note of three good things. Other times, I make long written lists. By carving out this space every day, I stay in positive feelings and keep moving in the direction I want to go.
Okay, so more positive things showing up in my awareness is good, but what does this have to do with writing? Two very important things.
First, increasing your receptors and experiencing more positive feelings more of the time feels better than the alternative. When you are feeling good and hopeful, you are much more likely to take action that moves you toward your dreams. When you are stuck in negative feelings, you are more likely to believe that whatever action you take won’t make a bit of difference. You might as well keep sitting there, talking about how things don’t work out for you no matter what. Where, exactly, do you want to go?
Second, gratitude is a great way to do future planning. Here I am in November 2013. I look back over the year and I see so many things I am grateful for right here, right now. I’m grateful for the amazing work relationships I have, for a road trip I was able to take with my family this summer, all the steps I’ve taken to bring my dreams closer to reality. It feels as if I am thriving and not just surviving my children’s childhood and my work life, waiting for things to get better some day. Feeling grateful for these things today is no coincidence because last year at this time, I asked myself, what am I grateful for now, and what do I want to be and feel grateful for next year? At the time, I decided that I wanted to really thrive, that I was done just getting by, that I want to spend more time doing the things that I love, that I wanted more love, connection, support and adventure. All of this has showed up in unpredictable and amazing ways. I did my daily practice, and it gave me the energy to create the life I love. This stuff works.
Here are a few tips about gratitude practice:
- Listing new and unique things helps. Stretching to think of more things to be grateful for keeps you on the lookout for more and more things that are working and feeling good.
- Give yourself a few moments to appreciate the feelings (emotions and bodily sensations) that go along with feeling grateful. Tune into the deliciously good feeling you get when you eat your favorite meal, the guilty pleasure of a book you dearly love. You want to soak this up.
- The more you do it, the easier it is, and the more you benefit—though I will say that if it feels like just another thing on your to do list, it probably does not have the same effect.
- Articulating why you feel grateful juices it up. I’m grateful for the stars I saw last night on my way home because it’s been cloudy for several days and I love to gaze at the stars. I am grateful for all the rain we’ve had lately because we really need the rain. I am grateful for hugs from my favorite people because I feel loved, connected, and appreciated.
- To create the daily habit, set an alarm on your phone, do it first thing when you wake up, or leave a note on your bathroom mirror. You want to create a trigger to remind you to do it. As soon as you notice the trigger, do it right away.
- If you are having a tough day, name everything in the world that you are grateful for. Ridiculous stuff, important stuff, things that only you appreciate. Keep listing until things shift.
Right now, while it’s fresh, I urge you to take a few minutes to write down what you’re feeling grateful for. After you have a good long list, think about what you’d like to feel grateful for next year at this time.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are you grateful for today, and what you want to be grateful for in November 2014?