The Practice of Gratitude: Not just a holiday activity
Given that this is the month of Thanksgiving in the United States, of course I couldn’t post without acknowledging the psychological benefits of attending to gratitude. You might brush this off as simply a feel good activity that has no long term effects, but actually naming our gratitude and giving it some space in our lives can literally change our brain. Psychologist Rick Hanson discusses our negativity bias as humans in his book Hardwiring Happiness and on his blog. He discusses how our brains are naturally wired to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources. Therefore, we need an intentional effort to get this natural bias going in a different direction. It also explains why the work of recovery is so daunting at times. It’s work, not magic!
Instead of looking at the big picture and feeling overwhelmed at the concept of rewiring the brain, for now, let us simply take a slow deep breath and know that one intentional positive action at a time literally builds a better life and a more balanced brain. We are not destined to be negatively biased, if we are willing to be an agent in creating change for ourselves. Literally taking that deep breath I just mentioned, allows our parasympathetic nervous system to calm us down a notch or two, which then creates more openness (less threat) and therefore more ease (not to be confused with easy) in our efforts to change our thinking. So, take a few more deep breaths, I will wait right here.
Now, consider 5 things that you are grateful for in your life. Engaging in a movement (even a slight one) like writing, wiggling our fingers or taking five steps can support the integration of these attitudes of gratitude as we contemplate them. As I practice this alongside you today, after my deep breaths, I’m taking some steps across my backyard acknowledging an appreciation for my first lemon tree filled with lemons, my two personality-filled kitty cats, my friendly neighbors, the current weather and the ability to walk. I’m also grateful to know that if you’re reading this in your recovery journey that you are invested in altering that negativity bias. This is evidence you are using your resources, such as the Oliver-Pyatt Centers blog.