Release Pain and Cultivate Joy by Practicing Gratitude

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Gratitude Journaling

Did you know that keeping a gratitude journal can be a quick and effective way to shift into a more positive mindset and increase positive emotions?

This simple and effective practice has been shown to strengthen the immune system, decrease stress, improve social connections…and more.

A big part of what makes this practice so effective is the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence behavior. Then behavior influences the next round of thoughts.

Practicing gratitude can help to actively shift the mind from thoughts that perpetuate sadness, anxiety and fear, to thoughts that create warmth, love and connection. Doing this actually shifts your emotional state, which in turn changes your behavior.

Of course we need to feel all of our feelings though. So please resist the temptation to label uncomfortable emotional states as “bad”. As human beings we have the capacity to feel a full range of emotions. And each and every emotion is there for a reason, to give you valuable information about your health and well-being.

But once you’ve decoded the wisdom embedded in your emotions, it is time to engage in practices like keeping a gratitude journal to help shift out of feeding energy to painful emotional states and into feeding energy to the states you want to cultivate.

And just in case you haven’t heard of this practice before, keeping a gratitude journal is exactly what it sounds like. It is the practice of writing down what you are grateful for in your life or simply acknowledging your successes and what is going well in your life.

It can be something as broad as “family” or “health,” or something more specific like receiving a job promotion or sharing a special moment with a friend. Generally speaking, the more specific you are, the more powerful this practice becomes and the more benefits you will get from doing it.

There may be times though when you feel like you don’t have anything to be grateful for. But it’s during those moments that I encourage you to use this practice even more. Even in moments of immense pain and tragedy, if you look closely enough, you can always find something to be grateful for.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, start with the small, simple pleasures in your day: curling up with a mug of your favorite coffee or tea, playing with your pet, a warm smile from a stranger, spending quality time with a family member or friend, a beautiful flower, the feeling of sunshine on your skin…anything that brings you a moment of joy.

Remember that keeping a gratitude journal allows you to shift your mindset from one of stress and negativity to one of abundance and happiness. It has also been shown to lower stress levels, boost life satisfaction, and improve connection in relationships.

Although seemingly simple, keeping a gratitude journal helps ground you in the present moment. Drawing your awareness to the present moment gives you the opportunity to actively shift your mind away from dwelling on the past (which can cause symptoms of depression) and away from worrying about the future (which can cause symptoms of anxiety).

Being in the present moment creates space to notice and appreciate the good things you do have in your life. And this helps to rewire the negativity bias of the mind, which results in new pathways in your brain that make it easier to notice the positive moving forward. This in turn has a profound influence on your overall mood and resiliency to stress. As well as on your internal self-talk and your interactions with others.

According to Greater Good at UC Berkeley, people who consistently practice gratitude have a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, experience more joy, optimism and positive emotions and feel less lonely and isolated.

And an added bonus…when you focus on what you are grateful for, you begin to further understand what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. This gives you clarity on what you would like to include more of in your life and what kind of habits, activities and people light you up.

Here’s how you can put this practice into action:

  1. Find a special notebook or journal to use as your gratitude journal.
  2. Set a designated time during your day to write. Early in the morning or just before bed are good times to journal.
  3. You can list out 3-5 things you are grateful for each day. Or, you can list one thing you are grateful for and five reasons why you are grateful for it (a gratitude list with a twist!).
  4. Focus your list more on experiences, interactions, and connections rather than material goods. Of course it’s fine to be grateful for those things too. But this practice is more powerful when it is focused on intrinsic sources of happiness.

Research shows that in as little as three weeks, people who practice gratitude on a daily basis experience a number of physical, psychological and social benefits.

And the best part is, writing in your gratitude journal doesn’t have to take up hours of your day. It is a short and simple practice that can be easily incorporated into your morning or evening routine, maybe even before or after meditating.

I’d love to know…what are you grateful for today? Drop a line in the comments below or hop on over to our Facebook community and share there.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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