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Counselor's Corner

An Attitude of Gratitude

Research shows that practicing gratitude on a regular basis is associated with heightened optimism, improved sleep, less illness, and lower levels of depression and anxiety. As Robin Sharma has distinctly summed it up:

"Gratitude drives happiness. Happiness boosts productivity. Productivity reveals mastery. And mastery inspires the world."

Studies found that by practicing gratitude, we can rewire our brains for more positive thoughts and feelings. Think of the brain as a forest, our neural pathways like the forest trails. The trails used more often become permanent while the lesser used trails disappear. Consistently focusing on things we are thankful for, we transform our "forests" or brains. The positive "trails" or neural pathways strengthen, becoming easily accessible while increasing our optimism.

Here are two activities you and your child can try to increase positive mental health and overall well-being.

  1. Focus on gratitude

Try these two steps after waking up in the morning or before you go to bed – or at any point in the day:

  • Think of something you are grateful for. It could be anything, large or small. Consider, for instance, feeling grateful for waking up in a warm bed, having hot water for your morning shower, or having a good cup of coffee to start your day. You might be grateful for having a job, for your family, or for supportive colleagues. Whatever it is, direct your mind to go there.
  • Consider how it makes you feel. Take a few moments to sit with that feeling.
  1. Redirect negative thinking

If you notice your mind moving into a negative direction, try redirecting your thoughts. Try to see what's good about the situation you are inclined to be negative about. This can drastically change the way you feel at the moment. By getting into the routine of redirecting our thoughts, you are rebuilding those positive and strengths-based neural pathways in your brain.

For example:

  • You think: I hate getting up early.
    Search your mind for any positive in the situation, such as: I love the quiet, first thing in the morning.
  • You think: I am so sick of doing laundry.
    Redirect your thought to: I can't wait to wear my favorite pair of jeans tomorrow.
  • You think: Why does my child have such an attitude after school?
    Try a strengths-based approach: She feels safe enough with me to share her negative emotions with me and not at school.

Practicing gratitude can shift our feelings to an optimistic direction and improve our overall well being physically and mentally. It becomes possible for us to be more calm or thoughtful, feel our stress levels drop, and be present in a positive way to those we love. I urge you to try these two exercises as we enter the holiday season.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!