Even in the midst of the most challenging circumstances there are things and people in our lives to be grateful for. Through the practice of deliberately bringing our awareness to them, we can cultivate a mindset of gratitude.
Gratitude can be a source of strength that helps us to better cope with challenging situations and to decrease stress. Research has shown that regular gratitude practice also leads to increases happiness.
Cultivating the mindset of gratitude requires practice because of the brain’s negativity bias. Everyone’s brain more rapidly takes in negative information and experiences than positive ones. As Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and Buddhist, explains, “Our brains are like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.” As a result many positive experiences in our daily lives are not stored in the brain unless we encounter them repeatedly. Repeated experiences of feeling gratitude can actually change or rewire the brain and increase the likelihood these experiences are stored. This means we can draw on them more readily or access the state of gratitude more quickly.
One way to cultivate gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. Every day set aside time to write down the things you are grateful for. They may be a mixture of small things and big things, e.g., your view, morning coffee, your health, your family. Another way is to practice is gratitude meditation. Find a comfortable seat and with your eyes closed or open, bring your awareness to the breath. On your inhalation, silently repeat, “I’m grateful.” On your exhalation, silently repeat “for” and bring your awareness to someone or something you’re grateful for. Continue the practice linking the phrases “I’m grateful” and “for [someone or something]” with your inhalation and exhalation. Gradually increase the length of your practice.
The ability to feel grateful in the midst of adversity creates a reservoir of positive emotions that can buffer the impact of stress and bolster our ability to handle it. It can also increase your happiness. What are you grateful for?
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.