November is a month when society expresses gratitude. Traditionally, we prompt gratitude as we sit down with friends and family and celebrate Thanksgiving. However, expressing gratitude does more than just improve connections with others. Gratitude improves physical and psychological health. People report fewer aches and pains and fewer toxic emotions, like envy and regret. It enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Practicing gratitude even improves sleep, self-esteem and mental health.
The opposite is true for focusing on what we don't have or how difficult our life is. Our brain brain prefers to pay attention to the negative and this can actually change our brain structure (neuroplasticity). This is called the negativity bias. The more negative thoughts we have, the more efficient those neural pathways become, and the harder it is to counteract.
So how might we embed more gratitude into our lives and start strengthening the gratitude muscle in our brain? Most people who practice mindfulness have a purposeful start to their day. It is less common to end the work day with purpose. So one way to prompt gratitude is to be intentional and end every day expressing gratitude. This might look like writing positive notes in a journal. Some have used the journal to communicate their gratitude for family members in the same journal. It is helpful to record our gratitude, and even more powerful when we communicate our gratitude for others.
Another idea, to promote gratitude between families or co-workers, is to establish a "No complaining challenge". Complaints are often used as conversation starters. When we respond positively, we stop the complaint. Enacting this challenge bring awareness to our language and how it impacts our mindset.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” ~Zig Ziglar