Research shows that people who express gratitude tend to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled. Being grateful can help people cope with stress and can even have a beneficial effect on heart rate. Studies over two decades have shown that the practice can increase happiness and decrease anxiety for up to six months. What is more, researchers from the University of Manchester found that people who expressed feelings of gratitude not only sleep better but also had more energy and increased focus.
Remembering to be grateful for the good things in life isn’t difficult to do, but it does take practice. It can be hard to shift focus from dwelling on what is wrong and broken in life to reflect on what is working well for you. This phenomenon is called the negative bias. Human beings are wired to be on alert to things that might be harmful or dangerous and take evasive action. A fundamental aspect of our survival instinct, it serves us well in genuinely life-threating situations. Unfortunately, the negativity bias is also triggered by everyday experiences.
Try exploring this for yourself. Think back over a few days. What leaps to mind? The chances are your thoughts have flown straight to receiving a poorly worded email or perhaps that stressful train journey or maybe feeling misunderstood. Pleasurable experiences such as sharing a joke with a friend or receiving positive feedback from a customer are like to be buried under the weight of anxiety generated. This is your brain’s negativity bias in action. As positive psychologist, Dr Rick Hanson says, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”
How can you counteract this? Begin by redirecting attention to what is right in life. This doesn’t mean ignoring problems or pretending everything is perfect. It merely is redressing the balance in how you view the world so that you are better equipped to deal with the difficult things that require attention.
A helpful start is to notice three good things that happen as you go about your daily routine. These don’t have to be big things – just something that energised you, made you smile, allowed you to see the brighter side of life. Working at this will serve you well as you go forward. Spend just 5 minutes at the end of your day thinking about these. Better still write them down. A simple tip is to buy an attractively designed journal and keep it by your bed.
The three good things don’t need to be extraordinary; just noticing and appreciating the pleasant everyday things in your life will make a difference in your mood and attitude. Why not take a few minutes to try it now. Reflect on the past few days and think of three good things that have happened to you. Write them down so that you remember them. Consider these questions if you are finding it tough to get going:
Try it every day for one week then shift to once or twice a week. It only takes a few minutes and costs you nothing but the effort of focusing on what has gone well for you. This exercise is also an excellent way to promote self-awareness and a healthy growth mindset. It will also help you to accept without self-criticism that all your emotions are valid, and then you can choose to focus on the positive ones.
You can also promote positivity through simple actions. Thank someone. Smile at the person who serves you coffee. How about buying a drink for the person next in line? Offer support for someone who needs a boost. Purposefully look outward instead of just inward. The kind yet straightforward things that you do will not only make others happier, they will also rebound and enhance your wellbeing.
Beverly Landais is an Accredited Executive Coach with a successful senior business background, including at board-level.
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Professional Certified Coach with a senior business background, including at board level.