This episode was originally aired in March 2020, when the covid just started to show its face around the world. Now, as it is Thanksgiving of 2020, which means we are about to close off this year, I thought it's a good time to go back to this talk. Why? Because as crazy, unprecedented, and unpredictable this year had been, we would be wise to see the good alongside the bad.
In the episode, I explain why gratitude is such an important trait to cultivate for both our mental and physical well-being and how you can start bringing more gratitude into your lives starting today.
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Our brain is a wonderful machine. But it has a feature that on one hand is responsible for getting us so far, but on the other hand, is a major flaw that causes much of our stress. But we can do something to work around it. And this is what we’re gonna talk about today.
Hello friends. How are you today? I wanna thank you so much for pressing play on this episode. I know that your life is probably quite busy right now. No matter where you are - if you’re quarantined or not, if you have kids to take care of or not, there’s a lot on your plate. Taking the time to listen to this episode is not obvious, so I thank you for that. And you should be, too, because you’re gonna learn something that’ll take you closer to feeling better these days.
I’m recording this episode on March 29th. It’s been 17 days since schools were shut down in my country. And a couple of days after that we were asked to stay at home as much as possible. Naturally, it’s not easy. For each and every one of you, this period can be full of uncertainty and that tends to bring pressures, anxiety, and stress. For some, the anxiety revolves around the health of themselves or their loved ones. For others, it’s about their finance. I guess for most of you it’s a mixture of both. And even if you don’t feel anxious - being closed down at home for so long is not easy, even if you like to stay at home, as I am.
So, what’s it like for you? What are you worried about? What bothers you?
I bet there are many answers to these questions. But let’s put those questions aside for some time and go somewhere else. I suggest that - if possible - you stop what you’re doing right now, take a deep breath, and now think on the following question:
What are you grateful for right now?
Really, take the time to think about it. What are you grateful for, right now?
It can be something big, but it can also be something as small as a piece of chocolate that you enjoyed. What are you grateful for, right now?
Did you think of something? Good. Hold it in your mind. That thing, or someone, that you are grateful for. What does it feel like, to be grateful? Notice, where do you feel it in your body? What kind of sensation is it? What does it make you want to do?
So for me, that feeling of gratitude feels like a nice warmth in the belly. Like nice soothing fir. And it makes me wanna hug, just silently hug, who or what I’m thankful for. Maybe you feel the same way, maybe you don’t. Just notice what’s it like for you.
But why do I want you to focus on that question? And why now, more than ever?
Well, I actually think that gratitude is important every day, but more and more in difficult times, such as this. And the reason for that is that gratitude is an active practice in which we get an affirmation of the good things in our lives. The feeling of gratitude enables as to notice, be aware, and appreciate the good things in our lives. And that is a really important tool in our mental toolbox.
Those who listen to this podcast have probably heard me say that our brain has one major, basic job - and that is to keep us alive. Your brain does a lot in order to do that. And one of the basic things it has to do is to notice danger. In each and every moment - even in your sleep - your senses are searching for signals of danger. This is what has brought us so far as a species. Because in our distant distant past, some of our ancestors lacked this function. And they just couldn't survive. Those who did survive had this ability to always notice danger, and do something about it. And so our 21th-century brains hold this really primal feature from long ago, and they notice danger - even when it’s not really there.
And one of the principles of attuning into danger signals is negativity bias. Our brains notice negative signals better and retain them better than positive ones. As I always tend to say - our brains are like super-glue for negative thoughts, and like Teflon coated pan for positive ones.
This is how it works. And it’s totally natural. Especially in these times, because our negative bias works in overdrive right now. And for a good reason because now there’s an actual danger around us.
Because our brains are so biased into negative thoughts, and because thoughts are - well - just thoughts, we can do a great service to ourselves if we do something to put some balance into things. If you see reality as negative, it doesn’t mean that it’s really that negative. Reality is just reality. Facts are just facts. It’s our way of thinking about it that is either good or bad.
This is where gratitude comes into play. It’s one technique of many to navigate your brains into more positivity.
Now, you may think this: gratitude is just a feeling. It’s an emotion that comes and goes, and we can’t force it. And well, in a way that’s right. It’s a feeling. But feelings are born from our thoughts and we can choose to act on our thoughts and influence our feelings.
There is so much that we take for granted. And I bet that some of those things you used to take for granted are things you really miss right now. And they’ll get back to you. But at this moment, their absence only show how important they are. So noticing those things are so important to you is an act of gratitude. And more than that - noticing and being grateful for those things that you have right now - that’s such a simple act, yet so meaningful and profound.
So other than the spontaneous feelings of gratitude, you can actively choose to practice it. And we have research that shows how an active gratitude practice can really help. In those studies, people were asked to fill a journal each day and write about the things that make them feel grateful that day. People who participated in such studies have reported better mood and a greater feeling of being present in their lives. They say that their lives are more abundant. And they also said - and this is really important these days - that they felt more connected to other people.
And if that’s not enough - people who practice gratitude in an active way reported better relationships. And now that you’re social distancing and staying at home - don’t you want to feel better with your relationship?
And one more thing - doing a regular gratitude practice was shown to be related to better physiology, such as better immune responsivity, better pain tolerance, better sleep and also better mental health.
So, how should you do it? It’s really, really simple. All you need to do is to put aside a couple of moments each day to be grateful. That means that in those moments you put your awareness towards those things that make you feel good, what is good in your life, and you let yourself feel thankful for them.
Many people do this by writing. All you need is a simple journal, and you can actually just do it on your Notes app on your phone. Put a reminder for each evening and sit with yourself for a couple of minutes. Take a nice deep breath, and think about those things that in that exact moment you are grateful for.
And it can really be anything. Anything. Small or big. For example, as I’m recording this, I can feel grateful for my current health. I can feel grateful that my loved ones are feeling well. I’m grateful for my home that is a good place to be in. I can feel grateful for my wife, who’s going through this with me, and my kids as well - that although they might drive me crazy every now and then, they are also sweet and spread joy. And I’m grateful for the internet, which makes it possible to be connected with my parents and friends, and also to get to you guys. And the list goes on.
Oh, yea. Coffee. I’m grateful for that as well. I just ran out of some yesterday.
So, just try and write that down each day. Focus on 2-3 things. If you want more, write some more. But the point is not only to write them down. I want you to try and really feel it. Feel the gratitude and ride this emotion to completion. Take the first item that you write and imagine it. Really have it in your mind and focus on your body and your sensations. Where do you feel it? In your belly? Chest? Head? Wherever it is, just notice it. How does it feel to be so grateful for the presence of that thing or that person or that pet, whatever. You don’t have to express that gratitude to him or her (although you can) - just let yourself feel it. And stay with that a little bit.
Now here’s another idea that is awesome fo these days, especially if you have kids. Take a jar - not too little - and put it somewhere where you’ll always see it. That’s your gratitude jar. Now every time you notice something positive in your lives, write it down on a little note and put it in the jar. Pretty soon you’re gonna have a jar full of positivity that you can go through. This is a great exercise to do with kids.
And if we’re talking about kids - the act of gratitude is an awesome thing to teach children. And there’s no reason not to start now. Whether they are anxious or not - focusing on the positive is a great thing for them. When my son was younger, we used to have a little chat at the end of the day before he went to sleep, and we used to talk about the day and each one of us shared one or two things that he’s grateful for in that day. Maybe we should get back to that.
Just notice that the point is not to deny the negative things. We’re not trying to teach our children, or ourselves, to focus on the positive and deny the negative. Remember, it’s about creating a better balance for our minds who naturally tend to focus on the negative.
So, that’s it for now. Again, I wanna say how grateful I am that you took the time to listen to this podcast, especially now. I’d love to hear from you, you can go to the show notes at apparentlyparent.com/8 and in the comments - let me know what you’re grateful for. Or find me at apparentlyparent on Instagram.
And if you find this helpful, please share this episode with your friends. Who knows, you may help them and they might feel deep gratitude towards you. Win-win, right?
If you have any questions or something you want me to discuss in upcoming episodes, please go to apparentlyparnet/contact and let me know. I’ll see you again next week, and in the meanwhile, stay at home, wash your hands, and stay safe.
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