Through what lens do you evaluate others, your experiences and yourself? Is it through a glass-half-empty lens with a critical eye? Or is your world and self-view more on the glass-half-full side leaning toward the positive? Or maybe you are a realist and fall somewhere in between!
Wherever you may fall on this spectrum, research shows that our default thinking has a powerful impact on our mental, emotional and physical health. So powerful that there is a field of research dedicated to studying this impact, called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the ability of the brain to rewire itself by creating new neural pathways in response to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Since our thoughts impact our emotions, and our emotions often dictate our actions in the form of behaviors, shifting any negative default thought process is an important step in changing our overall well-being for the better. In addition, the neuroplasticity research is showing that every thought we have has the power to impact our biochemistry and our hormones. Every single thought! This gives new meaning to the saying ‘we are what we think’. So, the study of neuroplasticity is a big deal, and it’s a buzz word in the psychology and medical fields because it’s proving that our thoughts impact not only our psyche but our physiology as well. One way to tap into the power of the mind is through the practice of gratitude.
Finding Your Happy Place
Gratitude is key to giving life meaning, but being grateful can feel like the last thing we want to do when we are struggling. In fact, practicing gratitude during these times may feel counterintuitive, or even inauthentic, but it’s during the tough times that we need to practice gratitude the most. Practicing gratitude does NOT mean ignoring what feels painful; instead, gratitude is about acknowledging and feeling what is ‘up’, but also acknowledging the blessings in our lives that are usually there but are sometimes difficult to see when we are feeling down and out. Research shows that a regular gratitude practice helps people to experience higher levels of optimism, happiness, enthusiasm, and connectedness to others. And on a physical level, a regular gratitude practice has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve immune function, and increase HDL and lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Starting a Gratitude Practice
The good news is that we don’t have to write long lists of what we are grateful for (unless you want to, then knock yourself out). Rather, it’s more about consistency with practicing gratitude that the research shows is impactful. So, writing at least three things you are grateful for each day in a gratitude journal serves to build the muscle of ‘behavioral fitness’ of regularly practicing a new skill. Purchase a journal that is only for this practice, and keep it by your bedside so you are reminded nightly to take a few minutes to reflect on what you are grateful for that day. A few questions to help guide the process are:
- What experience or person inspired you today?
- What made you smile today?
- What is the best thing that happened to you today?
If you are feeling depressed, or view yourself or the world from a lens of cup-half-empty, try this practice daily for at least a month, and see for yourself how a little change can go a long way in shifting your overall well-being for the better.