Christmas and gratitude go hand in hand as we pause and reflect on our lives over the past year – especially if a new baby is on the way (or here!).
But gratitude is much more than a warm holiday feeling. Here are five gratitude secrets for a calm and happy Christmas you should know.
1. Gratitude: We all have it.
Each of us has gratitude. We all have times when we’ve been thankful for a gift, a touching word, a friendship, or a special experience. And, when life is hard we’re grateful for days when it is less difficult. Or, when someone showed us even a morsel of kindness when we needed it most.
2. Gratitude Science
The science of gratitude (yes, there is such a thing!) tells us that when people exercise gratitude their whole body physiology changes. For example, studies that have used magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain while people are thinking thoughts of gratitude have quieter, calmer brains in the regions that control stress and detect threat, better emotional regulation, and lower heart rates. They have better emotional well-being. They are psychologically more healthy.
3. Gratitude: A Behaviour
Gratitude is a behaviour. And anything that is a behaviour can be turned into a pattern. A habit. A ritual. It may end up being an external habit, such as writing the things you are grateful for in a journal. But, it begins as an internal discipline when you choose your thought pattern.
Gratitude begins in the brain. It’s a bit like a fork in the road when you have a choice to go to the left or the right, with each path taking you to a different place. You exercise gratitude when you decide to think about the good that can come from a situation rather than dwelling on the negative side.
4. Gratitude: Upper Brain Living
When you make the decision to think about the positive side of a situation, you keep your brain activity in your upper brain – in the cortex – rather than in your lower brain that is dominated by fear and threat. You’ve taken the “upper brain” fork rather than the “lower brain” fork. When you live in your upper brain, you are able to think about creative solutions to problems. When you live in your lower brain, you are constrained by two choices – extremes which are both dominated by fear. And, igniting your lower brain sets off the body’s release of a cascade of stress hormones. Instead of thinking clearly about a situation, you want to flee, or you feel immobilized and unable to do anything about it, and you feel tense and irritable.
Living in the upper brain does not mean that you ignore the reality of situations, or that life won’t be challenging. It means that you choose to control your own reactions. Stephen Covey said that between every situation and our response was a space in which we could choose how to respond.
Learn more about How to Keep Calm and Survive Your Pregnancy Brain here.
Gratitude is a strategy that can help you to live in your upper brain. When you choose to be grateful for a situation or a person in your life, you lift your thinking to your upper brain. The first time you do that it may take a lot of effort. The next time it takes less effort. And the next time, less effort yet. However, it will always take some effort, and that has to do with our brain being naturally more focused on the negative.
5. Daily Gratitude: An Emotional Strength
When you exercise gratitude, you build emotional strength. You develop resilience. You enhance your ability to handle difficult situations when they arise. Like a firefighter, you need these skills and habits before the fire starts. You can’t build them when you are trying to fight the fire.
Here are 4 ways that you can practice the behaviour of gratitude:
1-While walking (or blow-drying your hair!), use that time to think about the things that you are grateful for that day.
2-Write a list of what you are grateful for in a journal.
3-Insert gratitude statements into your conversations (I’m really grateful that…..).
4-Choose the gratitude fork in your thinking patterns.
This Christmas, I invite you to live in your upper brain. Choose gratitude over negativity. Be thankful instead of focusing on the challenging, negative aspects of a situation. You get to choose.
Want some more tips? Here are 7 Hacks for Your Emotional Well-Being While Pregnant.