One of the keys to keeping a positive mindset is to practice gratitude. What does that mean? Gratitude means that you appreciate something and recognize its value in your life. How does having gratitude lead to a positive mindset?
It begins with the appreciation of the things in your life. That leads to a cycle that influences how you view the world. When you focus on positive things, you will notice more positive things. As you notice more, you become more grateful and the cycle continues.
Therefore, having gratitude leads to more positivity. In addition to increasing your positivity, expressing gratitude has a multitude of benefits for you.
How Gratitude Affects Your Brain
Creation of Reward Pathways
You might be asking yourself how being grateful can possibly make you happier. Having gratitude is an innate thing that activates the “feel good” parts of the brain. I’m not going to go deep into the science and research, but I will point out some studies that have been done on the positive effects gratitude has on the brain.
The hypothalamus is part of the brain that contributes to your health and well-being. Expressing gratitude positively affects this part of the brain. It creates a reward pathway that makes you happier. Once your body experiences that happy feeling, it wants more. In addition, this part of your brain has an effect on your sleep, stress levels, and metabolism. If you’re happier, all of these things are better.
If you have mental health issues—which is a very common thing to co-exist with executive dysfunction—you might suffer from sleep issues. As noted, triggering the hypothalamus to feel good can impact your sleep. If you get better sleep, your depression or anxiety symptoms may lessen. Getting enough sleep can impact your overall mental health in addition to your immune system, stress, and well-being. Gratitude also helps keep you living in the moment, which can keep the symptoms of anxiety at bay. Focusing on the positive aspects of your life right now keeps you from worrying about possible bad things in the future. With a positive mindset, you can look at the future without fear because you recognize your ability to overcome problems and be successful.
Increased Mental Strength
One study done in 2003 found that keeping a gratitude journal led to more enthusiasm, energy, and determination, which all aid in persevering through difficulties. The study also expressed that gratitude needs to be genuine and personal in order to gain the positive effects. It’s not about comparing yourself to others and realizing that you’re better off. It’s about expressing true appreciation for what you have.
Having more determination and the ability to persevere is vital when working on your executive dysfunction. Most people who have poor executive function skills have struggled for a long time and often feel down about their abilities. Since it can be a long process to increase those skills, keeping a positive attitude is important; otherwise, you’ll give up. If you can appreciate the journey and celebrate the little successes along the way, you’ll stick with it and meet your goals.
As I mentioned, gratitude affects the part of the brain that influences things like sleeping, eating, drinking, etc. The same group of Berkeley researchers found that participants who kept a journal also were more likely to exercise more and have fewer physical illnesses. Positivity leads to you wanting to do things that will allow you to enjoy even more of your life.
Even if overall better physical and mental health isn’t enough to make you happy, gratitude can make you feel more optimistic which can increase your happiness. Expressing gratitude for the things in your life leads to a positive mindset. When you are more optimistic, you see the good around you. Gratitude allows you to recognize the things in your life you already have to be happy about. This encourages your mind to seek out more good things to notice and the cycle keeps going.
Less Focus on Negativity
If you spend more time focusing on positive things, you will naturally spend less time giving energy to negativity. Your brain can’t really focus on both the negative and the positive simultaneously. If you choose to see the good, the bad will take a backseat.
This is powerful when negative thoughts enter your mind. I’ve talked about the effects of negative self-talk and how to turn it around. Gratitude can help you embrace that. If you have a positive mindset, you can take those negative thoughts and reframe them. It’s hard to learn how to do this, especially when you first start, but that’s where your increased determination comes in.
Gratitude helps keep a positive mindset, and it helps you be more resilient, allowing you to change those negative thoughts into positive ones.
If you are more determined, you will persevere through tough times. When you practice gratitude, you teach your brain that you are capable of reaching your goals and being successful. Focusing on the positive areas of your life will help you see greater possibilities and ways to achieve what you want.
When faced with a roadblock, you won’t throw up your hands in defeat; you’ll think about ways to circumvent the issue and find a new path.
Learning to be grateful takes practice. To truly reap the benefits of gratitude, it should become a daily practice. Making gratitude part of your daily routines and habits will ensure that you are able to shift to a positive mindset.
Here are some ways you can practice gratitude daily:
- Gratitude Journal – If you’re stuck on what to write, you can find tons of gratitude prompts or buy a pre-made gratitude journal. This isn’t a task that has to take a long time—just a few minutes a day. However, as you become accustomed to writing in your journal and appreciating the good things in your life, you might find yourself writing more.
- Gratitude Jar – Every day, you write down one thing you’re grateful for and put the slip of paper in a jar. This is an excellent way to start the journey toward daily gratitude practice because it is so simple. At the end of the year, you can empty the jar and reflect on all of the things you were grateful for over the last year.
- Gratitude List – Like the gratitude jar, this is a simple task. On a piece of paper or in a notebook, write down one thing daily that you are grateful for. At the end of the year, you will have a list of things you’re grateful for. The nice thing about having a list is that whenever you have a bad day, you can easily review the list to feel better.
- Acts of Kindness – One way you can show gratitude is to do something nice for another person. This allows you to give back to the people in your life for whom you are grateful.
- Meditation – Meditation is one way to be mindful and live in the moment. Take five minutes and reflect on your current life and think about the positive aspects. Consider the things you can appreciate about your life.
- Write a letter – Write a letter or a thank you note for something you are grateful for. It doesn’t matter whether you actually send the letter. The act of writing your thoughts and expressing your gratitude is what counts.
No matter how you choose to express gratitude, the important thing is that you put it into daily practice. The importance of keeping a positive mindset shouldn’t be overlooked, but sometimes staying positive is hard. Implementing a practice of gratitude can help ensure you stay positive, which in turn, will help you reach your goals.