Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season and a time to stop, take stock and say thank you for all the gifts we have been given. It is a time to reflect on the abundance that surrounds us and the people that give our lives meaning.
So, Why Is It So Hard Sometimes?
But, often this is also a time when we feel overextended and under-resourced and balancing the many demands in our lives can feel more like drudgery than joy. Our natural tendency is to see what isn’t working and where we are not being enough or doing enough. Maintaining a positive mindset in the midst of our ever-growing to-do list seems nearly impossible.
Just like your body is built from the foods you eat, your mind is built from the repeated experiences you have and thoughts that circulate through your mind. This flow of experiences, opinions and judgments gradually sculpts your brain. It’s what scientists call neuroplasticity. Richie Davison, neuroscientist at the Center for Healthy Minds, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison says that we are always, wittingly or unwittingly shaping our minds.
Our mind is wired with a bias to cling to what is negative and discount what is positive. Rick Hanson explains the negativity bias this way, “Your brain scans for, registers, stores and reacts to unpleasant experiences. It’s like velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.” When we are feeling overworked and drained from lack of sleep, poor nutrition or lack of leisure activities and exercise, things get even worse.
The solution is not to deny negative experiences. When they happen, they happen. Pushing them away and denying them doesn’t make them go away, it only moves them to the side to wait for another opportunity to erupt.
Taking in the Good to Cultivate a Positive Mind
But don’t despair, there are ways we can shift the balance. The answer lies in giving as much attention to the good in our lives as we do to the difficulties.
We can start training for well-being right away by embracing the practice of “Taking In the Good.” We do this by paying full attention to the pleasant experiences we have and letting them settle into our bodies. When we do this we are cultivating positive mindstates so that they can grow and become a permanent part of who we are.
According to Dr. Hanson, it only takes 15 -30 seconds of focused attention and savoring for these pleasant events to start changing the brain. When we begin to notice those beautiful moments – the compliment someone gives us, the beauty of the first snowfall, the fresh air outside our window or the taste of a freshly baked cookie – we start a cycle of positivity. The longer we allow these events to sink in, the more they impact our mood and change our brains.
So, why not make savoring and appreciation a part of your everyday life? Don’t wait for a special day, bring them into all of those in-between moments throughout the day and see if it enriches your life. Take the time to remember all of the people that love you, the warmth of your home, and the abundance that surrounds you.
In our classes, we do a gratitude practice that is sure to make even the most stalwart scrooge smile. Each person writes down ten small things that they are grateful for. That’s right, the little things that make your life easier. Some of the things that always come up for me are warm socks, the gentle snoring of my dog, hand lotion, my first cup of coffee in the morning, and when my husband fixes something before I realize it’s broken.
So, this Thanksgiving, before you get lost in all the preparations, sit down and write yourself a list. Appreciate the light switch on the wall, the ever-ready roll of toilet paper, the hot water that comes out of the faucet, and your toothbrush. Just see if the rest of your day isn’t just a little bit brighter.
One of the things I am thankful for is my mindfulness practice because it has trained me to appreciate all of the facets of my life, even the difficult ones. The tapestry of our lives is complex and there are gifts in the challenges we overcome as well as the moments of delight.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday and please join us in the New Year for one of our January Classes. If you are new to mindfulness try one of our Free Taster Classes, January 11-13.