When I was about to get married a common piece of marriage advice that I often received at bridal showers and pre-wedding events was, “Never go to bed angry.” It’s great advice. A similar piece of wisdom for anyone who chooses to embark on the goal of living a fulfilling and happy life is, “Never go to bed without being grateful.”
Gratitude is one of the key happiness superpowers that we have as humans. It’s one of the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal to truly change our lives for the better. The importance of gratitude for happiness and well-being may not be new to you. I know I’ve talked about it in previous blogs, as well as in Good Morning, Life! – it’s part of my happiness formula! The amazing thing is that gratitude literally has the power to rewire our brains. It’s truly remarkable.
Gratitude rewires the brain
As I learned from research, which I share in Good Morning, Life!, our brains have neuroplasticity that allows them to physically change depending on the thoughts we feed them. Repeated thoughts and behaviour build neural networks in our brains that make those thoughts and behaviours come easier the next time. This is what we call habits. It’s also why we can find ourselves on autopilot doing routine tasks.
Unfortunately, our brains also have a natural negativity bias, so left unchecked the neural pathways we may have built throughout our lives may be causing negativity and unhappiness. The good news is that by being aware of our thoughts and choosing more positive ones, we can build new neural networks that lead to positivity and feelings of happiness.
As psychologist Shawn Achor posits in his very popular and entertaining Ted Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work, “It’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness but we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”
Changing the lens with gratitude
The key is to build a gratitude practice into daily routines, so it becomes a habit. There are many potential opportunities. I know when I was young we would say “Grace” before dinner and give thanks for food, loved ones, etc. And since dinner is an everyday meal, it’s a great occasion to build a habit around. I wish I had continued that practice into adulthood, but it’s never too late to start again.
Gratitude can be practiced in the morning; like I did pre-COVID when writing in my journal on my morning train commute to work every day. It can be done in the evening; as I now do with my boys as we each say three things we are thankful for as I tuck them into bed at night. Even if they are thankful for Minecraft every night, it’s still a good habit for them to think about the things they’re grateful for each day.
It doesn’t matter when and how we do it, just as long as we do it! It has other important benefits also.
Gratitude for wellness and mental health
By Googling “gratitude and mental health” I can find a myriad of articles and studies from a wide range of health professionals outlining the many benefits of gratitude. One website lists the following health benefits found in studies on gratitude:
- improved sleep quality
- improved emotional regulation
- increased feelings of happiness and positive mood
- fosters hope for the future
- reduced stress, burnout, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- increased resilience
Think of gratitude as preventative medicine. It’s never too early or late to start tapping into gratitude for health, wellness and happiness!
Tap into happiness superpowers: Trust, Curiosity and Gratitude
That closes out the three-part series on our happiness superpowers. Now, it’s time to dive into the powers of Trust, Curiosity, and Gratitude and discover true happiness in our daily lives. It’s possible, it just takes intention and action, one day at a time.
Happy World Happiness Day!!