Fall is my favorite season. It is a time of hopefulness and new beginnings as students return to school. It is a time of family and appreciation of plenty as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time of imagination and mystery as we decorate the house, dress up in Halloween costumes and have the freedom to express other parts of our characters. And it is a time to be thankful for all the things around us that we may take for granted.
Gratitude is an important attitude to cultivate. Gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness. It is counting our blessings. Consciously remembering everything we have to be thankful for helps to calm anxiety and improve negative thoughts and emotions. It helps us to be more compassionate and empathetic, improving our relationships with others and ourselves. Scientific research shows that expressing gratitude influences the part of our brain associated with sleep, eating and stress (the hypothalamus), causing an increased production of the pleasure chemical, dopamine. Being grateful simply makes us feel good!
Gratitude is a habit that can be learned like other habits (see Breaking Habits, Making Habits). One approach is regularly writing a gratitude journal. At the beginning and end of each day, note the things that you are grateful for and the great things that happened to you that day. You will find this gets easier the more that you continue this practice. You’ll start to focus your attention increasingly on the positive aspects of your life rather than the negative ones. And this positive change can help to spark other positive changes, reinforcing gratefulness, and helping you to be more resilient when disappointments happen.
A tool that helps to develop this daily habit is The Five Minute Journal. This book gives a brief introduction about why expressing gratitude is helpful, then gives you a template to fill out each day in the morning and evening. Every morning when you wake, you answer:
- I am grateful for…
- What would make today great?
- Daily affirmations (what you want in your life).
Every evening before you go to sleep, reflect on:
- Three amazing things that happened today
- How could I have made today even better?
The journal also includes inspirational quotes and weekly challenges to keep you going. Notable people such as Tim Ferriss (see Books That Changed The Way I Think) find this approach helps them to be happier and more productive.
If you already keep a journal (see Looking Forward, Making Plans), you can also incorporate a gratitude log into your journaling habit. I keep a gratitude log in my bullet journal. At the end of each day, I reflect on what I am grateful for and add it to a dedicated page in my journal. It helps to keep my mind in the present and help me to recognize all the blessings rather than focusing on what I don’t have. Even when you have a bad day, you can pull out something positive. You may not have achieved your goal, but you likely learned something along the way. After keeping a list over a period of time, you can look back to remind yourself of all the positives in your life. For example, I am grateful for the love of my family, for the opportunities to keep learning and growing, and the tools that allow me to share my learning with a broader audience.
What are you grateful for today?