The science of gratitude and positive psychology

We all want to feel good, there’s no doubt about it. But how do we focus on the good stuff when life isn’t always sunshine and lollipops? Psychologist Dr. Sasha Lynn explores the concept of gratitude, and how building our gratitude, and focusing on building our strengths can lead to a more fulfilling life, even when difficult times crop up. 

Ronan Keating wasn’t wrong when he said “Life is a Rollercoaster”. We can find ourselves experiencing great joy one moment, and crushing defeat the next. How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other and looking up in life, even when those tough times are upon us? Introducing, the concepts of gratitude and positive psychology.

What is gratitude and positive psychology all about?

Gratitude can be thought of as a sense of thankfulness and appreciation for what is around you. But, it’s not all about ‘#blessed’ and posting fancy pics on Instagram (but it can be if you want!). Gratitude is finding light even in dark moments, feeling grateful for what you’ve learned or overcome, or even the challenges that you manage in life. 
Gratitude is often linked to a branch of psychology known as positive psychology. Although it’s a relatively new area in psychology terms there’s growing evidence to back it. Martin Seligman is considered the founder of modern positive psychology, and he proposes that in order for us to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, we need to look to our strengths and build them up, instead of simply trying to ‘get rid’ of problems. 

Why do we need gratitude?

By focusing on what we are grateful for, and looking toward what is going right in our lives, it can help reframe our thinking processes. Researchers studied people who practiced daily gratitude exercises, then conducted imaging scans on their brains, and found there was a greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude, compared to those who did not take part in gratitude exercises. Literally, their brains developed new and stronger pathways geared toward happiness. 
According to researchers at Berkley University, developing a sense of gratitude and well-being can impact on all areas of our lives, leading to greater productivity, more focus, better concentration, and improved relationships.
a girl in a positive vibes top

How do we get some of that good gratitude stuff?

So how can you build a gratitude practice into your life? It’s not always as simple as just thinking about things we are grateful for. Like any new skill, these things can take time and practice. 
Our minds can be a little reluctant; when we’re used to thinking in certain ways, our brain can put up a bit of resistance when we try to think differently. They say it takes 30 days to make a habit, and 45 to break one, and changing the way we think is no different. 
Persistence is key. Writing a gratitude diary can be a helpful tool to document the things you are grateful for each day, keeping you on track. It can also be useful on those tough days, to read back and see that things are not so bad in the grand scheme of things. Research has shown that a desire to feel happier alone is not quite enough. There needs to be a dedicated effort thrown in achieve positive change. 
Focus on the little things. Sometimes we think that gratitude means finding big things to be grateful for, but gratitude comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be anything from seeing the sun come out for 10 minutes in the day, to only having to replace one flat tyre instead of two. From little things, big things grow. 
Share the love. Have you ever seen the movie ‘Pay it Forward’? It’s about doing something kind for others, and asking them to then in turn do something kind for someone else. Gratitude can be built through looking outward; seeing what you can do for others, and the emotional return it provides to you.
Be in the here and now. Bringing yourself to the present moment can go a long way to building gratitude. Mindfulness is a snazzy way of calming the mind and focusing on the present. 
Start early. Encourage your children to begin practicing daily gratitude early; speak with them about it and try and incorporate it into your everyday routine, so they can reap the benefits of positive thinking for their entire lives.
So, what are you waiting for? Give your gratitude muscle some exercise today!

Make little moments matter

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