Whether you’re depressed or not, thinking negatively about life or yourself, from time to time, is simply part of being human. Unfortunately, no one has ever figured out how to be perpetually happy. Though most of us would like to.
The truth is, being upset or depressed is a survival mechanism that your brain uses to tell you to take an action that moves you from pain to pleasure. This is the brain’s job. So, it helps to learn how to break away from negative thoughts and to think more positively.
One strategy that will help you set negative self talk aside is the practice of bring gracious. Conjuring up feelings of gratitude towards people, situations or objects can help you by either: a) temporarily setting aside your negative thoughts, or, b) completely shifting your context of your current situation.
This quick article shares why and how to practice gratitude so you can get happy on-demand. Or, at the very least, understand that there are things to live for.
The benefits of grateful thinking
Your brain on gratitude
Even though it often seems like you have many thoughts reeling through your mind at the same time, what’s cool about your brain is that it can only think one thought in one given moment of time. This means, pondering positive stimuli means no attention allotted for negative thoughts.
Being grateful is a positive mind state. And when you focus your awareness on a memory, person, or object that you are grateful for, your brain activates blood flow in brain regions that increase production of a crucial “happy” brain chemical called dopamine. This quick release sends your body a quick flood of feeling good emotions.
In 2009, the National Institutes of Health examined brains of subjects thinking thoughts of gratitude. They had higher levels of hypothalamus activity and increased dopamine levels.
How to be grateful
Many experts suggest keeping a gratitude journal and logging what you are grateful for each day to help you cultivate this type of positive thinking, so it comes more naturally. This can be a useful practice. A study from UC Davis (2003) reported that adults who keep gratitude journals are more determined, attentive, enthusiastic and have higher energy levels than those who don’t.
But, being grateful doesn’t have to be even this complicated. It’s as simple as thinking about a memory, person, or object for as little as five minutes a day. Follow these quick steps when you feel negative or catch yourself putting yourself down:
Step 1: Stop all activities.
Step 2: Do whatever you need to, to take a five or ten minute “time-out”. You may need to close your eyes. You may need to physically leave your environment.
Step 3: Inhale and exhale deeply while you think about a memory, a person, or an object, that you feel blessed to have in your life. **If it helps to look at a physical object, like a picture, you can use that, as an aid**
Follow these three steps whenever you need to or want to. The more you do it the more you will help your brain stimulate the release of dopamine. This is good news, because when dopamine is released in the brain your brain responds by saying “I want more”. [It’s the same chemical that’s produced when alcohol is ingested, which is also how addictions occur.] But this is a a very healthy addiction to cultivate.
And if you’re in such a bad mood you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, refer to this quick list:
- Think of a moment in your life where you accomplished something you are proud of
- Think about the birth of your child or children
- Think about your first kiss or your first love
- Think about the day you married your significant other
- Think of how grateful you are to be in a body that works
- Think of a moment where someone made a difference in your life
- Think of a pet that you love
What’s important to remember is that being grateful is not about putting others down by thinking thoughts. It’s about acknowledge the incredible life you’ve led and lead.