This month's theme is gratitude, and I have to say that I feel very thankful for the things that I have learned while researching this topic. I feel grateful for the ability to feel grateful, knowing what an impact being intentional about this can have on a person's life. Not only does practicing gratitude benefit the people around us (who doesn't enjoy hearing a heartfelt "thank you"?), but it is hugely influential to our own happiness as well; gratitude functions like a natural anti depressant.
It is a well established fact that the content of our thoughts has a direct biological affect on our brain; different regions of the brain are activated depending on what we choose to think about. Studies have shown that when we consciously turn out attention toward positive aspects of our life, things for which we feel grateful, the brain stem region that produces dopamine is activated, and serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex is increased. These are two of our "happy chemicals," and medications like Wellbutrin and Prozac target them in an effort to help us improve our mood. By focusing on gratitude, we can access them naturally.
Sometimes, when we are going through an especially difficult period, it may be hard to identify anything in our lives that feels worth celebrating. It is important in these moments to recognize that we can choose to experience gratitude for even the tiniest of moments. Chade-Meng Tan, a mindfulness teacher at Google, recently published a book featuring mental exercises that are meant to help foster happiness. In one exercise, Tan encourages readers to notice opportunities to experience what he calls "thin slices of joy." A Quartz article explains this term as events that "are (usually) unremarkable: a bite of food, the sensation of stepping from a hot room to an air-conditioned room, the moment of connection in receiving a text from an old friend. Although they last two or three seconds, the moments add up, and the more you notice joy, the more you will experience joy."
If we train ourselves to recognize opportunities to be grateful about even the smallest things, we set ourselves up for happiness. Check in with yourself right now. Look around you. What can you be grateful for in this moment? Are you thirsty? Take a drink of water and choose to feel grateful for having been able to quench your thirst. Take a deep breath and choose to feel gratitude for your lungs, whose ability to pull air into your body allows you to live. Throughout this month, I'll be exploring habits, tricks, and techniques for growing a meaningful gratitude practice. In the meantime, what are you grateful for today? Let me know if the comments!
Photo credit Pierre Jean-Louis