Gratitude: A Training Ground for Happiness

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Gratitude: A Training Ground for Happiness

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Gratitude: a feeling of appreciation or thankfulness.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts and failures into successes. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

“The Scarcity Loop”

Sometimes it seems like we just never get a break. One thing happens after another to provoke fear and anxiety. The kids get sick, our finances feel like they are out of control, a global pandemic happens, and we burn the toast.

When we’re facing challenges, we tend to experience stress and anxiety, which triggers our sympathetic nervous system to flood our body with adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals activate the “fight or flight response, cloud our thinking, and make it difficult to see that we have options. 

Then we can get trapped into what Danny Iny, author of Leveraged Learning calls “the scarcity loop.” In the scarcity loop, our fear leads to anxiety, which in turn causes us to make poor choices. These choices then lead to poor outcomes, which causes more anxiety. There is an alternative.

“The Abundance Loop”

Did you know that if you’re facing lots of fear and anxiety, practicing gratitude can help you break the cycle? 

Gratitude gives us a way out of the vicious cycle of anxiety. That’s because gratitude and fear live in the same parts of the brain, and you can’t experience both of them at the same time. This means that gratitude can replace fear,  which then activates “the abundance loop.” When we feel a sense of sufficiency, we make better choices. When we make better choices, the outcomes improve, with better outcomes we get a confidence boost, and the cycle continues.  This is when gratitude leads to peace of mind, which gives us more to be grateful for.

Build Your Gratitude Muscle

To begin practicing gratitude in your daily life, make an effort to notice positive experiences that happen to you in the course of any given day. We naturally feel good when we have a fun conversation with a coworker, are greeted by a friendly dog on our morning walk, or sit in front of a warm fire on a cool night. But it’s easy to just move on to the next thing without giving the positive experience time to sink in. Our brains are always looking for what needs to be fixed and when things are going well there is nothing to correct.

Alternatively, if we take the time to focus on the positive experiences, and really let them sink in, we start to rewire our brain in a more positive direction. Author and neuro-psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. calls this “enriching an experience.” Enhancing our experiences in this way helps us better appreciate the events of our life and shifts our mindset from scarcity to abundance. As a result, gratitude naturally wells up and we gain greater perspective, peace of mind, and resilience. 

Dr. Hanson has some great guidance for structuring these powerful practices into our lives in his book, “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.”

Practice

Think about a positive experience you had recently. It could be something as simple as a brisk autumn walk around your neighborhood, a steaming mug of coffee on a cold morning, or sitting in a comfy chair with a good book. 

Once you’ve settled on an experience, focus your mind on it. Then, with the experience in mind, practice the following steps:

  1. Lengthen it: Focus on the experience for 10 seconds or more, and return your attention to it if your mind wanders.
  2. Intensify it: Open your mind to the experience, breathe deeply, and feel excited about it.
  3. Expand it: Notice other aspects of the experience. If you’re looking at a beautiful rose bush, remember how it smells, and how it feels when the petals brush against your cheek.
  4. Freshen it: Think about aspects of the experience that are interesting or surprising.
  5. Value it: Recognize why the experience matters to you, and how it might help.

After you’ve completed this exercise, take some time to notice how you feel. Is there a difference from how you felt at the beginning of the exercise?

Please join us in our upcoming series of classes to learn more ways to enhance your own well-being.

Check out this Gratitude Worksheet



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