Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you’re able to disconnect, find a place of warmth and peace, and enjoy time with those you love.
Much like New Years, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that requests us to do a specific thing. In this case, it’s asking you to reflect on reasons to be thankful. It’s truly special that we have a whole day dedicated to practicing gratitude, but that does not mean our practice starts and ends on this day.
Your brain produces gamma waves as a result of firing neurons and synapses. Moreover, emotions elicit specific and corporeal responses in your brain. MRIs and PET scans reveal that a “happy brain” demonstrates activity in areas “including the right frontal cortex, the precuneus, the left amygdala, and the left insula.” (NeurologyTimes); Whereas a “sad brain” displays activity in the right occipital lobe, the left insula, the left thalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. Lots of bigs words. But the conclusion here is that your brain and your thoughts are tangibly and scientifically espoused.
With the above in mind, it is easy to draw parallels between your thoughts, the energies you attract, and your state being (which I define as your mental, physical, and emotional packaging). When we exercise and train our brains to practice gratitude, you’re physiologically setting your own stage.
Let me give you an example. I’ve never been a morning person-- getting out of bed is a struggle. Some days, I start the morning by shoving my phone in my sleep-crusted eyes, thumb through my work email (which, by the way, if you’re looking for a great way to sprinkle a bit of anxiety into your body the moment you wake, this is it), I lay in bed for too long, rush through getting ready because now I’m late, take the dog on a too short walk and then feel bad about it, jump in the car, exercise a bit of road rage, and then run into my office with hunched up shoulders, a furrowed brow, shallow breath, and an irritated state of mind. My body is now physically responding to my mental state. All the wrong parts of my brain are fired up, and I’m likely to continue moving in this direction without intervention. How did this all go so wrong? I just woke up! A couple things: I allowed my consciousness to be controlled by external circumstances. And, by not taking stock, I also surrendered responsibility for my state of being. Don’t get me wrong-- properly identifying and managing your state of being is hard. We are constantly stimulated by people, daily responsibilities, pressure, news, social media, and smart devices (to name a few). It’s easy for things to spin out of control.
Weren’t we talking about Thanksgiving? Yes, we are. Hang tight.
Your state of being is, in large part, your responsibility. Once you identify that your state of being isn’t what you want it to be, gratitude is a foundational tool to help reset that stage. When you reflect on the pieces of your life that bring you joy, you light up the right parts of your brain and send energy in that direction. You are literally changing your mind. A gratitude practice can also be incredibly useful in shifting what we look for. It’s like moving the telescope to a different constellation in the sky. Many little gifts are overlooked in the daily shuffle, like a serene cup of coffee, snuggles with your dog, or hell, even a roof over your head. We spend a lot of time honing in on all the things we don’t like, don’t have, don’t want, and not enough time appreciating what we do. As we shift our own telescopes, we can focus uniquely on ourselves and start to tune out the unnecessary noise. Finding the silver lining becomes easier, we are less inclined to invest energy where it doesn’t belong, and we are generally happier as a result.
Of those who are in the habit of practicing gratitude, each person has their own method. Some prefer affirmations, journal, or speak them aloud, while others employ actions like volunteering or creating something. I practice gratitude through physical movement. I am grateful for my body’s capabilities, especially when I remember that they’re not guaranteed.
Gratitude puts us in a better place. So cheers to a happy Thanksgiving, and to a continued commitment to lighting up the right parts year round.