Guest Post by Kaia Roman of The Joy Plan
Dear Friends, we’re doing a 5-day #JoyChallenge this week here at Annmarie Skin Care. Each day, you’ll find a new challenge up on the blog. These practices are described in more detail in my new book The Joy Plan (coming July 11, pre-order here).]
When I dedicated 30 days to the singular pursuit of joy, I went after it from all angles—from the scientific to the spiritual, and everything in between.
Day 2: Gratitude
Find appreciation for as much as you can, as often as you can, and watch how negativity melts away.
I'd read that having a regular gratitude practice can increase happiness, but I didn't really know why. Although it did seem obvious that if I could shift my focus from my problems to what I’m grateful for, I’d likely realize that my troubles aren't as bad as they seem.
I believe gratitude helped pull me out of one of the lowest times in my life. And as it turns out, gratitude mostly works because of the effect it has on the brain. When I started my Joy Plan, my default thoughts were usually of the worry or fear variety. Switching my internal chatter to thoughts of appreciation and enthusiasm didn't happen overnight, but with practice, it did eventually become a new habit.
Thoughts and words of gratitude are registered in the brain as optimism, regular positive thoughts and reactions to life's challenges. Optimism lowers the stress hormone cortisol and calms and soothes the amygdala, the part of the brain that sounds the stress alarm.
When these thoughts are repeated frequently, the brain eventually forms new neural pathways—like well-worn highways your brain uses habitually because they are familiar. This happens with any type of repetitive thinking, but can be harnessed for positivity with a regular gratitude practice.
Today, find a notebook or even just a piece of paper. Set aside five to fifteen minutes to write what you are grateful for. You can write in list form, you can compose paragraphs, you can even draw pictures. No one else will see this, so just do what comes naturally to you.
Focus on the people, possessions, and surroundings in your life. Maybe you’re grateful for your health, family, home, job, or faith. Perhaps you’re just really thankful for that warm cup of peppermint tea in your hands. There are no right or wrong entries here. You’ll likely find that this exercise sends warm fuzzies to your brain. That’s because thoughts of gratitude release the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.
You may want to incorporate a gratitude practice into your daily routine. I set aside time every morning to write in my gratitude notebook, even if I’m writing the same thing over and over again. This helps start my day with a positive focus. And when I don’t have time to write it down, I know that making a mental list can be just as effective as a written list.
Even in the midst of challenging times, gratitude is always an option. A shift in perspective can sometimes change everything. While some days will be harder than others, no matter how hard or scary it feels, there is always something to be grateful for. And gratitude is a powerful antidote for fear.
Joy is a habit that can be cultivated with practice and repetition. And it’s more fun to do it with friends! Check back tomorrow for Day 3 of the #JoyChallenge: Kindness.