As fall has arrived and the candy frenzy of Halloween has passed, we are seeing social media posts and calendars counting down the days until the BIG holiday season is officially here. Holiday music is taking over radio stations and store background music. And the stores are already decorated and stocked for all of your holiday needs. Trees are even starting to fill lots, waiting to be taken for lighting and tinseling in excited homes. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE, nay I LURVE (even stronger than love) the balsam-scented-package-wrapping-Chex Mix-filled-Hallmark-movie-saturated holiday, but I feel that in many ways, we are skipping over a really important one in all of our excitement.
Our American holiday of Thanksgiving brings with it the expectation that everyone will pause for 1 day and practice gratitude for all he or she is blessed with. Just one day. We are a nation of overabundance and privilege, yet we very frequently focus only on what we don’t have. Advertising and marketing agencies are very good at their jobs and they train us to focus on lack so that we need what they are peddling. As a mental health professional, I see an abundance of clients experiencing anxiety and depression on a daily basis. And there is a correlation between the two.
The good news is that there is something we can do to live happier and more fulfilling lives. It truly all begins with a regular gratitude practice. (I know, eye roll, gratitude again. But, have you given it a try?) According to a great deal of research in the field of Positive Psychology, a regular gratitude practice is one of the quickest routes to retraining the brain into happier states of being. No, this does not mean that it will magically make all problems go away. I means that we can experience our lives differently by shifting our perspective.
Practicing gratitude costs nothing, is easily accessible, and allows us the freedom to choose how we practice. Writing in a gratitude journal, listing things in our heads, or even reaching out to others to express gratitude for differences they have made in our lives are a few examples. It doesn’t have to be complicated or formal. And to top it all off, the research shows that gratitude not only works to change our perspective and thinking patterns, but it also boosts immunity and improves cardiovascular health. Now, that really is something to be grateful for.
Gratitude, in many ways, can be thought of as the foundation for changing thinking patterns and increasing happiness, all while being a practice simple enough for everyone. As a Yoga Teacher Trainer, I lead a Yoga and Positive Psychology training which highlights the parallels between the two. In that training, we discuss the true purpose of yoga as reported in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali- the primary text on yoga (and it has nothing to do with physical poses). One of my favorite translations by Judith Hansen Lasater states that “yoga is the state in which the agitations of the mind are resolved“. In other words, we are ultimately practicing yoga in order to calm the mind, to let go of judgment/comparison/attachment, and to become happier in our lives. That sounds a lot like appreciating what we alreaady have rather than focusing on what we do not.
At times, we also miss out on the good in this moment by worrying about lack, loss, and what we might not have in the future. When this is our constant focus, we can end up spending our days feeling anxious and/or depressed. If we are able to pause and to practice gratitude for what we have right now in this moment, we can avoid the pain created by worrying or ruminating. We can not only trains our brains to look for the good, but to stop projecting lack and pain onto the present. We can experience more contentment, generosity, and peace.
We would all like to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. By practicing our own version of gratitude, we can change how our brains interpret what is happening in our lives. We already have all we need to live in a state of more contentment and abundance. We just have to practice making it our default.
If we try, we will always find something to be grateful for.
Thanks for being here with me. I am grateful for you.
Chat again soon,