Life is not always a smooth ride. The majority of us experience several bumps along the way. Some of us have experienced nothing but a bumpy ride so far.
No matter the degree of our affliction, there’s one antidote to human suffering: GRATITUDE.
Even in the toughest of times, it can be really helpful to find some time to be thankful for someone or something. Whether it’s your spouse who packs your lunch, or the bus driver that gets you to work on time, or that random stranger who extended a warm smile that made up for all the misery of the day, it can be profoundly healing to express gratitude.
Often times, when we are in a state of anxiety or afflicted with depersonalization, depression, or any other mental illness, we tend to forget about the small little things that are still in our favor.
The human brain has a negative bias, meaning that it has a tendency to retain and focus on negative experiences more than positive experiences. This bias also makes us focus on what is lacking than be satisfied with what we already have.
Many millennia ago, when we were roaming the plains of Africa in search of food and water, this mindset served us well. If a prehistoric man was walking about feeling joyful and elated all the time for no reason, he would have ignored the predator lurking behind him. On the other hand, those who were cautious, fearful and worried about the future were the ones who survived to procreate. We are their progeny.
But today, this mode of thinking is not helping us. It’s causing us unnecessary pain.
With this mindset, it can very easy to conclude that life is nothing but suffering and misery. This may very well be true… some of the time. However, if the majority of your time on Earth feels like nothing but a joyless struggle with constant worry about the future, then that means you are still under the control of old unconscious thinking patterns.
Every night, before I go to sleep, I perform a mental exercise. I make sure to find at least three things to be thankful for that day. It could be something as simple as having access to all the modern amenities of life, such as central heating during winter or clean drinking water. Sometimes, I express my gratitude for the health and well-being of my family and friends. Other times, I go all in and say out loud that I’m grateful just to be alive, to experience the full spectrum of life in all of its forms.
It doesn’t matter what you are thankful for, just as long as you pick something or someone. You could even be thankful for pouring the right amount of milk into your morning breakfast cereal! Not too much, not too little, just about right. The magnitude of your gratitude doesn’t matter.
Here’s the deal: by being thankful, you are sending a message to yourself that even amidst what seems to be a miserable life, there’s something to be optimistic about. You are consciously recognizing the assets you have in your life than always focusing on what you’re lacking at any given moment.
Through gratitude, we can rewire our old unconscious thought patterns, which are usually inclined to focus on fear, anger and other painful feelings, into new patterns of thinking which take into account the favorable events that we are not being aware of.
This is not a call to feign positivity. We are not trying to pretend that everything is A-OK and reject our pain and suffering. No! Instead, we are trying to allocate space for some positive feelings along with our pain, fear, sadness and suffering.
Regular practice of gratitude can provide you with a sense of hope and well-being when you are having a hard day.
The unconscious strategy of the mind is to keep brooding over and over about the hardships that we are currently facing. Sine the way we feel is very explicitly connected to the thoughts we have, it is not a big surprise that we don’t get to feel a sense of well-being when worry is at the top of our minds.
But by consciously taking the time to be thankful, we are breaking away from the default unconscious mental pattern of thinking which concentrates on stressful and difficult feelings and emotions.
Try the above-mentioned exercise for a few weeks and see how you feel. Take some time today to name a few items that you are grateful for. Do it sincerely without looking for a quick fix to your problems. With regular practice, you will slowly start to notice a change in the way you feel.
- Base image for opening quote – https://www.flickr.com/photos/b_macht/3046739207