Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks. It brings people together, bread is broken and goodwill is shared. But giving thanks is not just for the holiday season, it can be (and should be) a practice adopted for healthier and more positive cognition. Gratitude is a positive psychology practice that acts as resilience and a preventative measure to mental health challenges.
When we shift our thinking paradigm into one of gratitude, we are able to see the positive in a given situation, feel less stressed, and start to see ourselves as smaller in the greater scheme of life. As Psychology takes a turn towards positivity, we now have research that validates a lot of the concepts that seem sensical but it is always good to know that science agrees.
Finding the positive. Neural plasticity works in that we can rewire the brain and learn new things, obviously as a child this neural plasticity comes with more ease but there is enough research showing adult behaviour, attitudes and even personality traits change over the course of time. The more we do something the better we get at it because neural pathways have been reinforced. Therefore starting a gratitude practice, one novel thing each day, helps your brain actively scan the environment for something that went well. This practice then teaches your brain to look out for the good, going against our innate caveman nature to scan for threats. It needs to be novel otherwise your brain doesn’t create a new pathway. The practise doesn’t necessarily eliminate stress from your life, but it does change the mindset you apply to that stress. (Read the study here)
Feeling small. Sounds nonsensical, but a gratitude practice helps put things in proportion and realise our place in the world and system. Gratitude shows us how intrinsically connected we all are to one another, as the saying goes no man is an island. However, caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern day life and the bombardment of notifications we easily become isolated. This notion of feeling small is also connected to our need for awe and connecting to nature in order to feel well. Nature puts our story in proportion and actively slows us down. Gratitude acts in a similar way.
When our mind is not well, we tend to become very insular and reclusive. We are not able to connect to others with meaning and joy. When we start to scan for what is and give thanks for all we have, we can realise that not only do we need and value connection to others, but others are also in connection with us. We are all members of a community that in some way has moulded us and that we are able to make a positive impact on too.
If comparison is the thief of joy, then gratitude is the antidote. Turn your attention to what you have and watch the seeds of joy grow.