Positively Grateful

photoDear reader,

     I’d like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, for my first blog entry I thought it would be fitting to discuss benefits of being grateful and positive. Every year on Thanksgiving people start considering what they are thankful for in life. However, the very next day (called Black Friday sales) some individuals don’t mind cutting people off in traffic, pushing and shoving others to get to that flat screen TV that’s on sale.

     What if I told you that there are many benefits to being thankful daily? Being happier in the long run being the best one of them. So why reserve being grateful only for Thanksgiving? I understand that sometimes it is difficult to see the bright side of the situation. I understand that sometimes it is also difficult to find things to be thankful for. However, no matter how negative or desperate life situations may seem, if we insist on locating the positives, we will surely find them. Often times, we may find them only in retrospect. Our brains are wired to search for negatives in life, constantly being on alert for possible dangers. This goes back to our primitive need for survival. For this very reason, it may be difficult for us to retrain ourselves to look for positives and be thankful. We tend to focus more on our problems; somehow this gives us the false feeling of safety of being prepared should bad things happen. However, almost like a self- fulfilling prophecy, bad things happen anyway. What would happen if we used all of our energy that we use to focus on negative aspects of our life to focus on the positives instead?

     In order for life to get better, change is needed. The direction your life will take can depend on what you choose to focus on. What do you find yourself focusing on the most? Author and positive psychology expert, Shawn Achor who won many teaching awards at Harvard University, and has done research in fifty countries, states that if we want to change our lives, we must first change our reality. Let’s think about that for a second, dear reader. Are you able to recognize that there are alternative perceptions in any given situation? There may be a valuable gift in your suffering, something you will later be grateful for. Can you find the good in every ending and look forward to a new beginning? Can you recognize a lesson in every mistake and be excited for the second chance life will give you? Can you recognize your own strength in difficult situations? Not closing your eyes to the negatives, but rather acknowledging them and then searching for the silver lining? Shawn Achor refers to this as “positive genius.” It’s the ability to see the negatives in your life and the world, but also recognize your ability to do something about them and notice the positives. So let me ask you this: what is your role in your own happiness?

     Losada Line (research findings by mathematician Marcial Losada and University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Frederickson) state that 3:1 is the ratio at which people feel happier. In other words, you need to have three positive thoughts to every negative thought. Interestingly enough, psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman has found that for romantic relationships, a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences is needed to maintain a good relationship (uh oh, start complimenting your partner!) As you can see, focusing on what we value about ourselves, what we are thankful for in our life and in our partner, increases our ability to be happy. Additionally, it can assist you in being present and living in the here and now, rather than worrying about possible problems in the future, sabotaging yourself with negative thoughts in your mind, or thinking about the past or things you cannot control or change.

     In order to change our way of thinking and start noticing the positives, we need to make small changes. Shawn Achor suggests writing down three things you are grateful for each day for 21 days (called the 21 Day Challenge). Additionally, you can journal one positive experience a day to retrain your brain to search for positives, rather than being task oriented. Showing gratitude to others can also improve your psychological well being. For example, sending a quick email in the morning praising or thanking someone will not only increase your social support, but positive feelings as well.

     You may find it difficult being thankful for what you have currently. Perhaps you desire to have A, B, C and believe that only after you obtain that you will be happy. In reality, once you get A, B, C, you will desire D, E, F. There is never a perfect time to be happy. That time is now. Happiness is a state of being, not a destination. Appreciating what you have in life now, no matter how small, will only bring more happiness into your life. Enjoying the small pleasures of life and being thankful for them will help you stay in the present (instead of thinking about the past or the future.) Being thankful for the things your partner does for you will only make him/her want to do those things more. You can be thankful for anything ranging from people in your life, to the sunny weather you enjoy, your ability to do something well, or your loyal pet. The key is to notice as many  positive aspects of your life as possible.

     Dear reader, I’d like to end my blog entry with a quote by Thornton Wilder who said, “we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” I hope you come alive with such moments, enjoying the gift that each day is (called the present). I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. And I am thankful that you took the time to read my blog entry.