How gratitude can help us overcome sorrow and ease depression
When we are in the depths of sorrow, loss, grief or negativity it feels virtually impossible to connect with anything positive in our lives. Many people hold the belief that they cannot be open to positive feelings when life feels so hard but this is possible when we practice gratitude.
Gratitude can be achieved in very small, low level ways, even when we are feeling our worst. Because the human brain has a negativity bias built in to help keep us out of danger we need to work on training it towards positivity. With just a little work we can begin to develop our ability to feel gratitude and start to allow more and more of it into our everyday experience. With practice the brain becomes much more wired to feeling gratitude and this leads to a greater capacity for the brain to produce feel good chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, all of which contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing. Studies have shown that even physical health improves when we practice gratitude. As stress levels are reduced we are likely to experience better immune function, sleep improves and we feel more motivated to seek out healthy food and exercise.
So how can we increase the gratitude in our daily lives?
Well its easier than might you think. It only takes a few seconds of focus to allow us to absorb a positive experience and it is the simple things in life which have the most beneficial effects on the parts of the brain which are stimulated by gratitude. These are the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, a key player in the brain’s reward system responsible for pleasure.
Step one - Make a list of at least 3 things you feel grateful for everyday for 1 month. This will train your brain to start picking out the positives. Listed below are a few examples of what this might look like and remember these are the small things in life that make you smile not expensive objects or big events.
- The softness of the cats fur
- The sound of rain on the window
- A blue sky
- A strangers kindness
- That song played on the radio
- A good meal
- The perfect cup of coffee
These are just a few ideas but it is whatever resonates with you that is really important. This is your internal gratitude and very personal to you and your everyday experiences.
Step 2 - Express your gratitude whenever you get the opportunity. When we do this it has a profound effect on our wellbeing. Expressing gratitude, even in small ways, can help to reduce stress and also have a lovely effect on those around us.
- Try writing a letter to all those you feel grateful to in life. Even if you don’t send them it will help you tap into and experience your gratitude.
- Let someone at work know how much you appreciate that cup of tea they always bring you or for the work they do.
- Show your appreciation for anyone who serves you when shopping or eating out by smiling and making eye contact with them when you thank them. It is so easy to mumble a thank you without even acknowledging the person who has served us and it makes a big difference to people when you really see them.
Once we begin to become more mindful of the little everyday things which bring pleasure and comfort to life we start to open up to a whole world of subtle pleasure and joy. It is these soft, gentle, quite pleasures which have the power to bring immense joy to our lives and can literally rewire our brains for a greater capacity to experience happiness, contentment and connection with the world around us and ourselves.