Shauna Shapiro, clinical psychologist and world-renowned mindfulness expert, talks about the principle of creating habits in a way that resonates so profoundly with me. “What you practice grows stronger.” If you practice complaining, frustration, shame…those actions and feelings become stronger! You create a level of comfort with these negative emotions in your brain. It becomes natural to react to moments and scenarios in a negative or self-defeating manner. Each and every moment of our lives we are processing information, creating pathways of information in our brains, and conditioning ourselves. It happens regardless of your awareness of whether these information pathways are beneficial or harmful. We can change the brain and the way we process information. There are many examples of this related to mindfulness, EMDR, and other therapies or practices that help to transform our thought process. Another word for what I’m talking about it neuroplasticity.
So now we know that we have the power to change the way our brains function, let’s do something with this power! In a future blog post, I plan to discuss in detail the ability of mindfulness to increase the grey matter in various parts of your brain. Learning to turn inward, check in with ourselves, and become more mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions can be a powerful tool in opening our hearts and improving our interpersonal relationships. Emotional regulation was one of my most needed and sought after personal benefits when I discovered mindfulness.
This morning I had the opportunity to not only watch, but genuinely absorb the news. Let me explain that…we have transitioned to a minimal television environment at home. We cancelled our satellite services and just watch what is available to us through Netflix and Amazon TV. It has led to way less background noise and distraction. I was able to watch the news this morning because my exquisitely happy 10 month old, Maya, was admitted to Cook Children’s last night. It seems to be a gnarly virus that led to a very sick, weak, and dehydrated baby girl. We are here for (hopefully) just a couple of nights to get her hydrated and on her way to a full recovery. Maya was also in the same unit of this hospital for a week over the Christmas holiday. She has been dealt a rough hand of illness in her brief life, but she is a trooper and has won the hearts of many nurses in this place.
So as I’m laying with Maya this morning, watching The Today Show, Maria Shriver begins talking about her new book, “I’ve Been Thinking . . .Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.” Shriver interviews multiple influencers about the importance of gratitude, meditation, focus, compassion, love, and other values in corporations and communities. I loved many things about this segment and immediately added Shriver’s book to my reading list. But the emphasis on gratitude is what really peeked my interest this morning. This brief Today Show article, “Be thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health,” discusses the many benefits practicing gratitude:
“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”
There are also UC Berkeley and UC Davis studies that discovered the major health benefits of living a life of gratitude. One benefit is a 23% reduction in Cortisol, a stress hormone associated with several health issues.
Maya is sick and that sucks. I’m sad, worried, and preoccupied with the what if’s. But I intentionally take moments to re-focus my energy on being grateful that she is healing and improving, grateful that she has an acute and treatable illness rather than a chronic, life threatening condition, grateful for the excellent care she is being provided, and grateful for my precious husband, family, and friends who make moments like this more bearable.
Focusing on gratitude can be simple! Find a method that fits with your personality and interests. I love the idea of a gratitude journal. You can either create a routine of spending 5 minutes each day writing down things that you are grateful for or maybe just keep a journal handy to write down moments of gratitude as you recognize them. Shriver talks about thanking God each morning for her blessings, I love this and practice this with my babies. There are lots of methods to choose from, the point is to create a habitual practice of viewing life through grateful lenses. To practice gratitude so that your grateful heart grows stronger.
Life is hard. People experience incredible loss and difficult experiences on a daily basis. Having the ability to be grateful and positive isn’t only about “silver-lining” our realities. It’s about making a point to recognize the blessings and beauty amidst the pain. It’s about intentionally turning towards the light. Gratitude is empowering. Gratitude can help us find the calm in what looks like pure chaos. I hope this helps you create an attitude of gratitude! I know I have so much to be thankful for. Thanks for visiting and spending this time with me.