By Lauren Navarra, director of psycho-education and webinar production
Gratitude: The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.Oxford Languages
What does it mean to you to embrace an attitude of gratitude? You may have read the various benefits of practicing gratitude, which we’ll discuss further, but you might wonder how someone practically does this?
With the world in its current state coupled with our own personal stressors and the winter season upon us, it can be difficult to experience gratitude, let alone embrace it as a state of being. Like all things, embracing a grateful mindset takes practice, but the good news is that it’s really a simple addition to your daily routine, and it’s one that can drastically change your life in all aspects — love, family, work, and even your morning commute.
But first let’s understand a bit about why being grateful isn’t exactly second nature to us.
Scarcity mindset and the hedonic treadmill
A scarcity mindset is one that’s constantly focused on what you lack, what you wish you could have. If, like most people, you catch yourself thinking something along the lines of, “I will be happy when…” don’t feel bad. You’re actually biologically primed to focus on scarcity. After all, how else would early humans have fended off predators and hunted down large game to eat? If they were comfortable with themselves, they probably wouldn’t have survived long.
But that mindset no longer serves us, and in fact it leads us onto the hedonic treadmill if we’re not careful. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, of sensual self-indulgence, and the treadmill looks something like:
I will be happy when I lose weight.
I will be at peace when I have no debt.
I will be satisfied when I find a partner.
This kind of scarcity mindset will always leave us feeling depleted, because when we place our focus on external circumstances, we are bound to be disappointed. We’ll get that promotion, that boyfriend, that fitness goal, and we’ll realize it’s not as life changing as we expected it to be, and that as soon as we have it, we’re already reaching for the next indulgence. This is the hedonic treadmill.
Ok, so how do I get off the treadmill and love my life?
Did you know your brain is plastic? The word plastic comes from the Greek “fit for moulding.” So neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. So in terms of our outlook on life, if we are constantly in the pattern of having negative thoughts, of pointing out what we lack rather than what we have, our brains are actually becoming hardwired to repeatedly lead us down the path of negativity. However, when we practice gratitude, kindness, and compassion, we have the ability to rewire our brains, thereby changing our thoughts and habits!
Understanding neuroplasticity as a concept is incredibly empowering because it gives us a clear path to take our healing and happiness into our own hands. You can do this by starting a gratitude practice to help you become more present, grounded, and focused on the “here and now” instead of being focused on scarcity, or what we feel we are lacking.
Positive states build positive traits
Through temporary moments of gratitude, compassion, and appreciation, we can build long-lasting positive resources that we can access in moments of stress and difficulty, according to positive psychologist Barbara Frederickson’s “Broaden and Build Theory.” Positive emotions allow us to be more adaptive, creative, and flexible in the way we think and behave. This is important for teachers to understand, not just so that they can be more resilient in their classrooms, but also so they can teach these methods to students.
How to start a gratitude practice
We can start a gratitude practice by considering aspects of our lives we may feel are “givens,” the basic needs and abilities that we don’t always realize we are privileged to have. We can express appreciation for our safe homes, clean water, the ability to walk, see, feel; aspects of our lives that we typically consider as things we are entitled to. When we humble ourselves in conscious awareness of gratitude and appreciation, we are able to see and experience the full depth of the blessings in our lives.
Here are gratitude practices that can be easily incorporated into your day:
The GLAD Technique
Each day, take a few moments to reflect on the following:
G-one thing you are grateful for
L-one thing you’ve learned (about yourself, another person, the world, be creative!)
A-one thing you’ve accomplished
D-one thing that brought you delight or joy
The GLAD technique will help build positive resources that can be called upon on the days we aren’t feeling especially thankful. GLAD will also help cultivate greater happiness, self-esteem and self-worth as we are focusing on pleasant events and what IS working.
Listen to our podcast on gratitude for teachers and how to incorporate into the lesson plan.
Write a letter of appreciation for someone who has shown you love and compassion as a way to practice an attitude of gratitude. This can be a partner, a friend, a co worker, or a stranger. You can send this letter to this person if you choose, or you can just hold onto it as a reminder of how lucky you are to have this person in your life.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Find a quiet space and dedicate some time to expressing love and compassion to yourself through meditation. Focus on nurturing yourself, and during your practice, you may extend these feelings to loved ones. Over time, this practice might even extend to people that you tend to have a difficult time with.
Research on loving kindness meditation shows that levels of happiness and life satisfaction were significant even after the program ended, demonstrating the powerful effect of meditation and visualization techniques on our mind, body and overall well being.