Do you know people who have everything they want — wealth, success, comfort — and yet, they seem to be unhappy? In contrast, do you know people who have gone through great tragedy or misfortune and seem to be happier than anyone else you know?
Why do people with less seem to be happier than people with everything? What is the secret these people have that allows them to radiate happiness regardless of their circumstances?
The secret is gratitude. Gratitude, like mindfulness, is a skill you must learn, and most aren’t born with. Gratitude comes with daily practice and dedication, but once you make it a habit, it truly can transform your life.
In this article, we’ll discuss the science behind gratitude, the different ways you can practice it daily, and how it will change your scarcity mindset into an abundant one.
The Science of Gratitude
Research in neuroscience has shown that being thankful releases dopamine and serotonin into our brains. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for pleasure and causes your brain to repeat whatever actions led to its production. Serotonin is what gives your brain the feeling of happiness. Therefore, gratitude acts as a natural antidepressant, keeping your mood elevated even when your circumstances are less than ideal.
If you practice something enough, it will eventually become a habit. Our brains are wired to repeat things that reward us with dopamine — so if you are intentionally practicing gratitude on a consistent basis, the dopamine release will cause your brain to develop a habit out of it.
The human brain is incapable of focusing on two things at once, so you can’t focus on being happy and sad at the same time. This is why it’s important to practice gratitude when you are feeling sad, as it will shift your brain’s focus from the things that are making you sad to natural happiness.
Gratitude isn’t defined by merely telling yourself “everything is great” when it isn’t. The objective of practicing gratitude is to find things in your present situation that you can be thankful for and focus on, despite the negative things. Though it can be challenging, this is an important step because everyone goes through hard times, and you must be prepared to get through them in a healthy manner.
What Is the Law of Attraction?
A common misconception of the law of attraction is that all you have to do is think about what you want, and it will immediately come to you. Unfortunately, our thoughts can’t make money, relationships, or anything else materialize out of thin air.
However, your thoughts do control the vibration that you are in. Success coach Bob Proctor explains that the law of attraction is a secondary law and that we do, in fact, attract what we think about, but it has to do with vibrations rather than immediate physical results.
“Vibration is a fundamental law of the universe. It decrees that everything moves, nothing rests.”- Bob Proctor
Bob goes on to explain that if you keep thinking positively, you will activate your brain’s cells on a higher frequency, cultivating positive vibrations in your mind and body. This vibration dictates what we attract, what we subconsciously work towards, and the opportunities that surround us, so if you are constantly thinking negatively, don’t be surprised when you find yourself surrounded by negative energy!
Of course, this law is easier said than done as we are not always in control of the environment we’re in. Thankfully, Bob offers another law to combat the negativity of a stressful environment.
The law of polarity suggests that everything has an opposite; in other words, it implies there is a good and bad side to everything. This allows you to look for the good in situations that may not always appear positive in the first place.
For example, maybe you have to work a double shift because someone called out of work. Instead of focusing on how tired you’ll be when you get home, try to view this as an opportunity to add a little bit more to your paycheck. The goal is to shift your negative thoughts into positive ones so that your vibrations are attracting the things you want instead of more negativity.
Attitude of Gratitude
It’s been said that people feel happier than normal during the Thanksgiving holidays because of all the serotonin-producing tryptophan found in turkey. Well, this isn’t actually the case — there isn’t enough tryptophan in turkey to actually produce a noticeable amount of serotonin in the body.
The real reason people report feeling happier during Thanksgiving is that they’re practicing gratitude. The simple act of expressing thanks for the things they feel grateful for allows people to feel more fulfilled and leads them to generate those positive vibrations necessary for the law of attraction to work!
Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman explains that achieving an attitude of gratitude is not about living in a fantasy land and ignoring any bad that might be in your life. Rather, it is about understanding why your body feels happy and fulfilled when you practice gratitude.
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Where Do I Begin with Practicing Gratitude?
The best way to start practicing gratitude every day is to keep a gratitude journal. It does not matter what you use as a medium to write down the things you’re grateful for — a notebook, scrap paper, a laptop — just as long as you are intentionally and consistently using it. If you have tried doing this before without success, don’t get discouraged! You can follow some simple steps to decrease your chances of giving up.
Be Creative with Prompts
It can be difficult to start this process, and if you’re struggling to find a starting point in your journal, prompts can be helpful for some to provide a sense of structure as you write. Some prompts you may include could be:
- What special someone has taught you about unconditional love in the past or present?
- Write down one good thing that happened to you today.
- What are five personality traits that you are most thankful for?
- What about your upbringing are you most grateful for?
- Are you happy with how your day turned out?
Keep in mind that these are only suggestions. Feel free to create your own prompts that are unique to your experiences!
Keep the Journal in Eyesight
We recommend placing your journal somewhere where you’ll consistently see it so you can remember to use it. For example, some people like to put their journals on their nightstand so that it’s the first thing they see when they wake up and before they go to sleep. This may seem like a simple step, but having your journal in a visible place will encourage you to commit to the practice.
Commit to Consistency
It’s not a big deal if you miss one day of journaling; just be sure you pick up where you left off the next day. In fact, once you have successfully incorporated journaling into your daily routine, you will likely feel off if you miss a scheduled journaling session. It takes effort to get to this point, so stay consistent!
Journaling has actually been shown to activate the right hemisphere of your brain, which is responsible for processing feelings and emotions. The more you journal, the stronger this connection grows and the greater your ability to digest and understand the emotions you feel. Instead of viewing journaling as a chore, see it as an opportunity to process your thoughts in a healthy way. Before long, you’ll crave journaling time.
Grab your journal as needed throughout your days too. Here’s a helpful tip from The Merry Maker sisters, Carla and Emma Papas:
“When you notice yourself focusing on everything you don’t have… take 3 deep breaths and decide to switch it up. Start to focus on what you DO have. Make a mental list or actually write it down. This switches the mind from a lacking mindset, to an abundant, grateful state. It’s in this kind of state that you can be kind, creative and joy filled. Sure, it’s ok to want to reach goals and be somewhere else but if you don’t enjoy the way there… What’s the point?”
Be Intentional with Your Gratitude Journal
You likely won’t benefit from your gratitude journal if you are only doing it because someone told you to. You need to want to receive the benefits of doing this exercise. Otherwise, it will feel like a homework assignment. Get personal and journal about the things that really matter to you rather than repeating the same things you are thankful for each time. Take time to dig deep and get to the stuff that really matters to you. Remember, this journal is for your eyes only.
Don’t Rush the Process
If you are still struggling to consistently journal every day, try taking some extra time to reflect on what you’re thankful for just this week. This can make the process seem less daunting, as you are focusing on the smaller things you appreciate. If you’re viewing your journal as just another item on your to-do list, you’re more likely to rush through the process and get nothing out of it. Instead, take a deep breath, don’t place expectations on yourself, and focus on the small things that bring you joy.
Warning: Steer Away from Negative Conversations
Negative talk and gossip are normal ways for your brain to try to make you feel better, but they ultimately leave you feeling deflated and unproductive. If someone starts engaging in a pessimistic conversation with you, try steering the subject to something that happened to you that day that made you happy or left you feeling thankful. This will simultaneously boost your mood and the mood of those around you. Remember: Practicing gratitude can even have a positive effect on your friends, family, and even strangers!
Practicing Gratitude with Your Pets
When you practice gratitude, you focus on the positive aspects of relationships that keep life upbeat and vibrant. Well, guess what — those relationships don’t necessarily need to be with humans!
Our pets can teach us important life lessons that are sometimes challenging to find in human connection. In fact, here are a few areas in which our pets teach us to practice gratitude every day:
- Live in the moment. Your furry (or scaly) loved ones don’t spend their time worrying about what the future holds. Follow their lead by learning how to focus on the present instead of letting the anxiety of things we can’t control creep in.
- Don’t be afraid to love. We’ve all seen the videos of shelter animals that are terrified of humans, but that’s never the end of the story — those adopted pets become some of the most grateful and loving creatures on the planet. You can channel that gratitude by overcoming fear and expressing love too!
- Accept yourself for who you are. Pets don’t sit around all day wondering if they look good or fit the mold of what it means to be a “Good Boy” — they already know that they’re a good boy just because they exist. Take a page out of their book by learning how to accept yourself in the same way.
Our pets can be our greatest friends and also our greatest teachers. So show them some gratitude today by picking up one of their favorite treats on the way home, taking a trip to the pet store to buy a new toy, or giving them an extra-long scratch behind the ears.
We guarantee that they’ll be grateful for it!
How Can I Continue Practicing Gratitude?
While a gratitude journal is a great start, there are several other ways you can infuse gratitude into your life. From a spontaneous phone call to a thoughtful thank you note, here are some of the best ways you can continue your journey to gratitude.
Express Gratitude to Your Loved Ones
Another effective way to shift away from negative thoughts and practice gratitude is to show appreciation for your loved ones.
This does not need to be a long list of why you fell in love with your partner — though they might appreciate that! This can be as simple as saying a heartfelt “thank you” when your roommate takes out the trash on a snowy evening when they know it’s your least favorite chore.
Take some time to write in your journal about this person and get specific on the things that you genuinely appreciate about them, no matter what those things are. Now, how can you show that appreciation for them in a way that they would receive well? Would they appreciate a gift card to their favorite coffee shop? Maybe a spontaneous hug or high five? Whatever you choose to do, your gratitude will have a ripple effect. When people feel appreciated, they’re much more likely to appreciate others around them too.
Not a Journaler? Try Gratitude Meditations Instead!
Journaling is not for everyone — and that’s okay! If writing isn’t something you are comfortable doing, another great way to practice gratitude is with gratitude meditation. This is the simple act of quietly reflecting on the things in life you are thankful for. It’s common for gratitude meditation to be included in some yoga classes and may be aided with the inclusion of mantras.
Headspace is an excellent app to start meditating with. This app offers tons of resources to walk you through successful gratitude meditation.
Write Thank You Notes
Surely you can recall a time in your childhood when your parents forced you to write thank-you notes to all your relatives for the birthday gifts they got you. Guess what — there’s actually a scientific reason for doing this! A recent study of 219 men and women showed that writing three thank-you letters over the course of three weeks led to decreased symptoms of depression and increased their happiness and life satisfaction.
Read through your gratitude journal once a week and find something you wrote about someone in your life. Take a moment to write them a simple thank you letter showing your appreciation for them. Not only will you notice a positive improvement in your own life, but your relationship with this person is likely to grow as they feel appreciated by you!
Don’t Wait to Practice Gratitude — It Will Change Your Life!
There are so many benefits to practicing gratitude, all of which are actually backed by science! If you struggle to keep up with journaling, just try talking to yourself on your morning commute to work and verbalize all the things you feel grateful for. Even something as simple as this is a sure way to improve your quality of life and those around you!
Remember: True happiness doesn’t come from having tons of money, fancy cars, or the “perfect” relationship. True happiness is born from being content and grateful for what you have and constantly seeking how you can help others. You’ll be surprised how much abundance you allow into your life when you have this mindset, so don’t wait!