After leaving my corporate career, I went through a difficult time as I tried to figure out what came next. I was unsure of my career future and, like many going through a job search, my ego took a beating and I rode an emotional rollercoaster.
During this time, I heard an interview with Facebook COO and Lean In author, Sheryl Sandberg in which she discussed the loss of her husband and how she came through that period of intense grief. This was the first I had ever heard of a Gratitude Journal.
The concept, as Sheryl explained it, was easy: every night she would write down three things that happened that day that she was grateful for. This was so simple. I had tried journaling before but always got stuck on what to write. This type of journaling resonated with me if for no other reason than it was specific and sounded like the kind of journal I could actually keep up with. And so I began.
What I discovered was life changing. After reflecting on each day through a lens of positivity, I found that no matter how bad a day I had had, there was alwayssomething in my day to be grateful for. Maybe it was job opportunity or a consulting gig, but more often than not, it was something like “laughing in the kitchen with my kids” or “going to the gym” or someone new that I had met.
Going to bed thinking about the best of my day was a game changer. I stopped dwelling over what hadn’t gone my way or what I might have done differently, and instead turned out the light with the best of my day top-of-mind. During the day, I became more observant of the good moments. They were stored away as something to jot down later.
I have come to learn what has been widely proven: being grateful makes you happier. Scientific studies show that gratitude leads to increased wellbeing. In one study I found, they reported that gratitude improves relationships. In another, researchers discovered that participants who wrote of things they were grateful for went to the gym more, and the doctor less, than those participants who wrote about things that aggravated them.
"According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral segmental area (part of our 'reward circuitry' that produces the sensation of pleasure)," Cited Arthur C. Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, in a 2015 New York Times piece.
So yes,on top of it all,it appears, practicing gratitude actually changes your brain.
The holidays are a rough time for so many. So whether you are among those who suffer this time of year, or just feel you just want to be happier, you might try a starting a Gratitude Journal. I think you will see that even when times are difficult, you can find small glimmers of light. And over time, with continued practice, the light will actually grow brighter.
For more ways to find happiness and life satisfaction, download my free ebook, Figuring Out What's Next: 3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Find Your Purpose or sign up to my email list.
References & resources:
“How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain,” Joel Wong, Joshua Brown, Greater Good Magazine published by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, June 6, 2017.
“Science Shows That Gratitude Is Key To Well Being,” Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., M.F.T., Psychology Today, July 30, 2018.
“7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude”, James Ducharme, Time Magazine, November 20, 2017.