I love Oprah Winfrey…I have for 30+ years. I feel we’re kindred spirits and have seemed to be on the same spiritual path for so long. She inspires me (and I love to feel inspired!)
I remember at least 20 years ago that I heard Oprah first talk about a gratitude practice. I remember laughing as she talked about how keeping a gratitude journal had so dramatically improved her life. She said “and I was having a pretty good life already.” For years I tried to get a gratitude practice in place. Just like I tried to meditate regularly and keep a journal. I’d start each year with each of those goals and within a short time, would let the rest of my activities inch the practices out. There never seemed to be enough time.
In the last 4 years since I made my “Leap of Faith” from my corporate job, and began my journey to find my purpose and work that had meaning for me, I began these practices in earnest and have found that they each have made all the difference in how I live my life.
These days I find that most of books I read talk about the benefits of gratitude. It’s a pretty simple concept…what we focus on expands. Whatever we put our attention on will show up in our lives. If we focus on what is wrong in our lives we create more of it. If we focus on what we love in our lives we draw more of it to ourselves. It’s so simple and yet so profound.
Interestingly though… I recently read about UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb and the insights he found from his research documented in his book The Upward Spiral. It seems that the best question to ask yourself when you’re feeling down is “What am I grateful for?” It actually affects your brain at the biological level! You may know that the antidepressant Wellbutrin boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine. Well, guess what? So does gratitude! In addition, Korb found that “gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable”
Gratitude also boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin, just like Prozac. But, here’s what I found truly amazing. It doesn’t even matter if you find something to be grateful for. It’s the searching that counts. Korb found that “it’s not finding gratitude that matters most, it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.” So cool, huh?
In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection she comments (much to her dismay) about her research findings that it is not enough to just have an “attitude of gratitude.” It ‘s the practice of gratitude that makes the difference. She learned that an attitude, which is a way of thinking doesn’t always translate to behavior.
It’s such a simple thing to do to create such profound impact on your life. It takes me less than three minutes in the morning to journal what I’m grateful for and it’s now just a part of my morning routine. I also added a practice recently with someone very dear to me that’s dealing with a very difficult circumstance in her life to become gratitude buddies. Here’s how it works…each night we text each other at least one thing that we’re grateful for before we go to bed. I love it!
Whatever works for you, find a way to build a gratitude practice into your life. You’ll thank me for it someday.
In gratitude for you,