Today we’re bringing you a post Leslie wrote and originally shared three years ago. Its subject (gratitude) is an ever-relevant theme we return to each Thanksgiving. This post reminds us, though, of the effect daily gratitude can have on our writing and creativity. As life gets successively busier, Leslie’s tips for a daily gratitude practice are more impactful today than ever.
What are you feeling grateful for?
As we close out 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’re 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 you drive, instead of the one or two people who are less than considerate. When we spend more time in positive emotion, our brains create more receptors for the neurotransmitters of those emotions, and thus, we will feel positive emotions more often. (This is a vastly oversimplified explanation of what happens in the brain, but I think you get the picture.)
I practice gratitude every day by naming the people, places, things, and feelings 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.
Having more positive things show up in your 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 feel good and hopeful, you’re much more likely to take action that moves you toward your dreams, including daily writing. When you’re stuck in negative feelings, you’re more likely to believe that whatever action you take won’t make a bit of difference. You might as well keep talking about how things don’t work out for you no matter what. But where, exactly, do you want to go?
Second, gratitude is a great way to do future planning. Here I am in November 2013. As I look back over the year, I see so many things I’m grateful for right here, right now. I’m grateful for the amazing work relationships I have, for a road trip I took with my family last 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 kids’ childhood and my work life, waiting for things to get better someday. Feeling grateful for these things today is no coincidence because last year at this time I asked myself what I was grateful for then, and what I wanted to feel grateful for the next year. At the time, I decided I wanted to thrive, that I was done getting by, I wanted to spend more time doing the things that I love, and I wanted more love, connection, support and adventure in my life. 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 in to the deliciously good feeling you get when you eat your favorite meal or 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 makes the practice more powerful. 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’m grateful for all the rain we’ve had lately because we really need it. 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’re 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 you feel a shift in your mood.
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. One thing I’m joyfully anticipating feeling grateful for is more adventures in writing and with my family.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are you grateful for today, and what you want to be grateful for this time next year?
Image courtesy of photojohn830/bigstockphoto.com.