Giving Thanks More Than One Day a Year?
Thanksgiving is here again, the holiday officially designated to promote the practice of counting your blessings. Yet should this be limited to just once a year?
Psychologist and author Dr. Robert Emmons has looked extensively into the benefits of cultivating an intentional and regular practice of noticing things you can be appreciative of. He has found that the "attitude of gratitude" reduces stress, improves personal functioning and can even enhance weight loss efforts.
Why would this be so?
A favorite saying of mine is that, "we tend to find what we are looking for and what you focus on, expands." In making an effort to notice things you are grateful for, you are actually rewiring your brain. In particular, a structure called the reticular activating system (RAS) which acts as a filter as to what you notice and what you ignore. Your brain and nervous system can only attend to a limited amount of stimulus before it would be overwhelmed.
Ever have the experience of deciding to buy a particular make and model of car and then start seeing them everywhere? That is your RAS at work. It's not like someone deliberately went out and put them out there all of a sudden. Rather they were there all the time, but then your attention shifted.
A major difference between pessimists and optimists (who tend to be healthier overall) is where they place their attention, which in turn alters experience. Pessimists see life through a lens where the positive is discounted or ignored and the negative is their primary focus.
Yet is it that nothing good ever enters the world of a pessimist? Most likely the answer is no, but that might as well be the case if it doesn't register in a person's consciousness.
If you had buried treasure in your backyard and didn't know it, what good would it do you?
A simple practice you can start is keeping a daily or weekly journal where you reflect on what you currently feel grateful, whether it be something big or small. Even in the most difficult and trying circumstances, there is still good in the world. The trick is to be on the lookout for it.
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