The simple practice of being thankful has the staggering ability to transform your brain structure. Grow thick new dendrites. We cannot grow another arm just by thinking about one, but we can grow new thought paths in our brains and make them wider and more accessible with continued use. And the way we think changes how we perceive and react to situations every day. Our outward behaviors are a direct reflection of our most frequently used and easily accessible dendrite pathways.
You continually think resentful thoughts? You will become a bitter person.
You continually think self-deprecating thoughts? You will never love yourself.
You continually think angry thoughts? Your first reactions will drive people away.
You continually think elitist thoughts? Nothing will ever be good enough for you.
You continually think thoughts of gratitude? You will begin to sink into a contented appreciation your life.
Whatever type of thoughts you allow yourself to think day in and day out, that is who you become.
One thought is a barely-visible trail through the woods. But each time you choose to take that trail it becomes more and more visible, more and more easy to take. The grass gets trampled. The twigs get snapped. The big rocks cleared. And when taken enough, the trail becomes marked with dirt and signs to get there and is printed on every map. If it’s a trail that leads to a hidden mountain lake enveloped with pristine peace and calm, well done. If it’s a trail that leads only to an outdoor loo, it’s time to try again.
I discovered the secret of gratitude out of necessity. I’ve experienced all these outcomes. If I had paid attention to research I would have discovered it sooner.
Gratitude reduces stress.
Gratitude breeds satisfaction.
Gratitude helps you see reality unbent by emotion.
Gratitude increases your mental health.
I developed a practice of forcing myself to be thankful for something every day. I would post it to Instagram as my own sort of accountability. I didn’t care what people thought or commented: this was my survival. This was my way to convince my brain that life was good. The proof was in the daily trail of pictures that is increasingly thick. I initially logged my daily gratitude with #dailythanktitude and could only conjure thankfulness for things like cookies and meatballs. With discipline and practice I began producing an entire list of things I was thankful for every day, alongside a picture that brought me joy. Now I have switched to #thankfilledlife which I find easier to say and not pre-loaded with as much daily pressure. Sometimes I forget to take a picture, sometimes I’m off my phone, and that’s okay.
Sometimes I fall back on a physical gratitude notebook and pen. Even when emotions are lying to and saying that life is no good and you are insufficient in all areas, there are things to be thankful for. Like that 2-minute relapse of oppressive emotion. An understanding spouse. A cashier’s smile. A free coffee. The sunset. A extended deadline. Something in mail that’s not a bill or junk. How you forced yourself to do that one thing today. The victory of believing you are enough for the first brief second. Truly, some things that you are thankful for just don’t need to be public. Some gratitude is richer when it’s only for you. It almost builds more if you don’t give it away.
Practicing gratitude has increased my joy. There are more and more moments in a day that I find myself breathing deep and allowing myself to rest momentarily in the goodness of life.
The smell of outside.
My children’s joy.
That first sip of coffee.
Money to buy groceries.
The privilege I was born into.
The one clean corner of my house.
Gratitude is a practice supported by the bible, psychology and neuroscience.
Pay attention to all the good around you. Write it down. Train your brain to build that path and you will build a well-known hiking path to an oasis of rest inside.