November is the time of year when we need to celebrate good moments in our life in order to compensate for the gloom of the darker and colder days. Especially now in these difficult times, it is important to regularly rest your mind on what is ok in your life.
Did you know that gratitude is a happiness booster? It has concrete physiological effects: feelings of gratitude release positive endorphins throughout the body, more concretely the hormone dopamine, the brain chemical correlated with reward, pleasure and satisfaction. Once you have the feel-good benefits of gratitude, you'll want to keep feeling it.
Endorphins also contribute to strengthening and enhancing the immune system, which enables the body to resist disease and recover more quickly from illness. Recent data suggests gratitude provides social and psychological "glue". The hormone oxytocin is associated with promoting the glue that connects adults in meaningful relationships.
Gratitude increases blood flow and activity in the hypothalamus, the master gland that controls hormones. Furthermore, gratitude interventions have been shown to result in improved sleep, more frequent exercise and stronger cardiovascular and immune systems.
The more we experience a sense of gratitude, the more endorphins and the less adrenaline we pump into our systems, thus contributing to longer, healthier lives. As we count our blessings, we literally bathe ourselves inwardly in good hormones.
Gratitude is a skill you can learn
Like any other skill, gratitude can be practiced. That's why we teach the "10-finger gratitude exercise" in our mindfulness courses. Before you go to sleep, name 10 things that you are thankful for that day, while counting them on your fingers. Children love this. I am always amazed how easily they come up with 10 items.
I have introduced this practice in my family many years ago when my boys were still little. Now they are teenagers and they still do it with us from time to time. This small family ritual has helped to strengthen the love and connection amongst us and to end the day on a positive note.
Collecting moments of gratitude
Some people use gratitude journals to write down the things they are grateful for. Others use a gratitude jar where they put a paper each week with something they are grateful for and open it on new Year's Eve. There are lots of methods to notice and help remember the good things in your life. It is important to do some conscious efforts of focusing on the good, because our brain has the tendency to focus on the difficult and negative stuff rather than on the positive things in our life.
According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, our brain is like Velcro to the negative and Teflon to the positive. Therefore, it is important to equip yourself with some simple tools helping you to tap into abundance and joy which are available at any moment.
Whenever you do a gratitude exercise, it is important to not only count your blessings, but to take a moment to truly enjoy them. How does it feel in your body? Maybe you notice a feeling of warmth or tingling or relaxation. Are there any emotions you can detect? In order to consolidate this experience of happiness in your brain, it is important that you spend some extra 20 seconds feeling it and allowing it to sink in. So often we let these little moments pass by without truly enjoying them and missing out on their healing power.
Here is a guided meditation on gratitude to try out this method. Enjoy!