In Uncovering Happiness I talk about how the #1 bad habit that most people have can be surprising—our thinking. Before we fall into procrastination, stress eating, isolation, habitually engaging our phones or any other addictive behavior, there’s a thought. The thought is something like, I need to get away from something uncomfortable that’s here or at times, I want the good feeling that’s here to last.
One of the most powerful ways I have found to change the atmosphere of the mind is a very simple gratitude practice (but with a power boost).
Now, before your eyes roll you need to know this: Thoughts may be arising in your mind right now such as, “not this gratitude stuff again, I’ve read this in a thousand places.” If you notice this thought, ask yourself, what is the net effect of this thought here? Does it incline you to move toward this practice that you’ve heard about a thousand times or away from it?
The answer is most likely that it inclines you away from it.
If we all know it’s a supportive practice, why does the mind do this? Because the brain is wired to habituate to things. This is the classic top-down processing in effect. You read those words, your brain reaches back into it’s memory bank to find the reference for it, it sees many references and it spits out the computation, “Unimportant, move on.” Little do we often know, this computation is exactly what keeps us stuck in life.
We need to break free from this mind trap and engage bottom-up processing, seeing this gratitude practice with fresh eyes.
Give Your Gratitude Practice a Power Boost
I’m curious what would happen if you committed for just one week to a daily gratitude practice where each day you mindfully and actively thought of five to ten things you’re grateful for.
When you sit down to consider what you’re actually grateful for, you take a moment to picture each one in your mind and ask yourself, why are you grateful for this? Can you feel the experience of that gratitude in your body?
Remember, as Donald Hebb said, “neurons that fire together wire together,” so let all that somatic feeling of gratitude linger for a few more moments then move onto the next one.
This lights up more areas of your brain and gives a power boost to the impact of a gratitude practice.
If you have a few minutes right now before moving onto the next thing, try this out with even just one thing you’re grateful for. Bring a curious mind to it and see what you notice. You may just begin to uncover a little happiness right now.
Set a daily reminder for this week and report back what you’ve noticed. Your interaction inspires this in others, so imagine the ripple effects.
Adapted from Mindfulness & Psychotherapy