For this month's blog, I am feeling grateful, so what better topic to write about than gratitude?
To start, I am grateful today to be entering into September, which means that Lunar Light, this beautiful, safe space that has been created for healing, hope, and connection, is officially one year old. It was a scary leap of faith to start this journey, and it has been a lot of work, but it has been an amazing year full of many opportunities to walk alongside all of you on your paths to healing.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to start this blog, which fills my love of writing and sharing information. It is in moments like this that it is easy to sink into gratitude and find reasons to be thankful. There have been many times over the last year, however, where life has gotten busy, hectic, and heavy, and practicing gratitude has been hard (and sometimes just not part of my life at all). At some point, life slows down, or I realize I am in the middle of the storm, and try to reconnect with gratitude, but it is not an easy practice.
It is an important practice though. Practicing gratitude shifts us away from negative thinking, as you cannot be actively in negative thoughts while practicing gratitude. There is evidence that suggests that reducing the amount of negative thinking we do helps improve mental health.
It gives your brain a break from stress. Again, when we are engaged in gratitude, even only for a few minutes, those are a few minutes where our brains have to disengage from negativity, from focusing on stressors and anxiety, and be mindful of the gratitude practice. This gives our brains a break from being flooded with stress hormones and negative self-messaging.
There are psychological, physical, and social benefits to practicing gratitude. One of these is that while practicing gratitude, our brains release happy hormones (serotonin and dopamine) and by regularly practicing gratitude, we strengthen those pathways in our brains which creates an overall more grateful, positive, and happy mood.
Research has shown that gratitude practice reduces anxiety and depression symptoms, improves sleep quality, reduces pain, and helps regulate stress.
If you are convinced and ready to try it- here's what gratitude practice is and some ideas on how to actually do it...
Gratitude is a positive feeling we get when we experience something good in life. Gratitude practice is a purposeful focus on the good things in life, with special attention to being thankful for these things. It is summed up as "being thankful".
When you are just starting out, it is important to remind yourself that gratitude is a PRACTICE. You may have noticed how often I use that word in this blog- practice, practice, practice! Practice on purpose!
How to practice gratitude is as varied and nuanced as the human experience, and there is not one single right way to do it. Here are some ideas to get you started though:
1. Keep a gratitude journal. At least once a day, open your journal and write down 3-5 things you are grateful for that day. This doesn't have to be extensive, and you don't have to share it with anyone for it to benefit you. You also don't have to reinvent the wheel. Maybe you are grateful to wake up and be alive every single morning. You don't have to try to avoid repeating things, the important part is putting your attention to things that make you thankful.
2. Share gratitude for others. Start telling people that are important in your life how you feel about them. Let them know you are thankful they are part of your life. Sharing this not only lets others feel great, but it cultivates that gratitude within us as well.
3. Thank your body, mind, and spirit for what they do for you. Likely, you are not perfect, but there are still ways in which you can appreciate yourself. Something as simple as looking in the mirror and appreciating that your eyes allow you to see, your body carries you through this life, your mind carries your happy memories for you is enough to start benefitting.
4. Guided gratitude meditation and connecting to your breath. Sometimes when we start out, having someone else guide us through feeling gratitude is helpful. There are a number of gratitude meditations available online. Listen to the first couple minutes of them, and see if the voice, speed, background music, etc. feels good to you, and then try going through one.
5. Find a gratitude buddy. Ask a friend, your partner, or your kids to share this practice with you. It helps with accountability and making the practice pleasurable, so you are more likely to do it. Gratitude takes time to make positive changes, so sometimes we need some external motivation to keep working at it. Also, it is an excuse to connect to someone and that is something to be grateful for!
Gratitude does not erase all the hard things about our lives, and it doesn't undo the hurt and pain we have been through and carry with us. Sometimes gratitude is presented as the cure, but it is not. It is one small act that you can do daily to improve your life by 1%. It is a small practice that you have the power to choose. It is a single tool to add to your toolkit.
Thank you for reading this blog, and for joining my practice for today!
-Alana at Lunar Light