If gratitude were a pill, we'd all be taking it 🤣. There are so many studies documenting the many benefits of simply focusing on what we are thankful for or what is going well in our day or lives. Apparently, it even causes our peripheral vision to expand - who knew?! And, we know from biofeedback that what we focus on grows. I've been dabbling in the topic of neuroscience and the connection to gratitude - it's fascinating.
From the "Science of Gratitude," by Misty Pratt:
"How exactly do these practices work to improve our mental well-being?
In general, people are more cognitively aware of their “headwinds” (or barriers they face) than “tailwinds” (benefits they receive). By paying more attention to our tailwinds, studies have shown that we can accentuate feelings of happiness, optimism, and positive emotion.
'Strengthening your positive recall bias makes it easier to see the good things around you even when times are dark,' says Nancy Davis Kho, author of the book The Thank-You Project."
I've noticed that my mind wants to skew negative, it seems to like stewing and ruminating. Apparently, that is the negative bias in our brains that evolved to protect us from danger (kind of a built-in threat detection system) but is largely useless and out of date in our current world. So the practice to "strengthen our positive recall" is a skill that doesn't come naturally.
There are dozens of studies demonstrating the physical and emotional health benefits of a gratitude practice so I started wondering if there were any benefits as it relates to the creative process.
Here's just a sample of what I learned:
Gratitude calms the nervous system and the body. I know I can tune into intuition much better when I'm calm.
Feeling grateful reduces envy, resentment, and depression, and increases self-esteem, life satisfaction, and optimism. Naturally, all of that pre-disposes us to create.
Since it improves a wide variety of health issues as well as sleep, it helps us have a good foundation for the headspace from which to create.
Gratitude increases the feel-good hormones, dopamine and, serotonin in the brain, increasing creativity and higher thinking skills.
"When you are grateful, your stress is reduced and you experience positive emotions. These in turn help you remember peripheral details more vividly, think outside the box, and recognize common themes among random or unassociated ideas. All of this adds up to a more creative response," says stress reduction expert Pete Sulack.
It grounds us in the present moment, by being grateful for something right now, we train our mind toward thoughts that have value instead of ones that aren't helpful.
There's more but you get the idea and this newsletter is getting long! A clarification though, practicing gratitude is not just "positive thinking." It's not forcing yourself to have a positive thought about something that isn't good. It's more of a reorienting to something (anything) that you are grateful for even when things are tough. The best part about it? It's enjoyable and takes so little time. Just jotting down in an app or notebook what we are grateful for on a daily or even weekly basis can make a big difference. My research does indicate that it takes time, 4-12 weeks so enjoy the process and the benefits will come. It's best if you try to identify new things each time and not repeat them. They can be big things or little tiny things. Here is a sampling of the things I've listed over the last couple of months: The way the sun is hitting those leaves, my husband going shopping, my dog's warm tummy, the way my sheets feel, the color turquoise, watercolor paper, my hands, my eyes, green plants, paint brushes, my favorite chair, knitting, ranunculus, clean water, etc. You get the idea. I'm sure we could all make a list of things that are not going well and that we don't want or like in our lives but since I don't want those to grow in my head, I've been gently pivoting my mind to notice and appreciate any little or big things that perhaps I've taken for granted. I have been feeling especially grateful for all of you! Thank you for the lovely notes and comments you send and post, knowing that you enjoy my work and teaching is what keeps me loving this endeavor! Let me know if you already have a gratitude practice or want to start one.