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In Praise of Gratitude

I often ask my clients to start a gratitude practice. It is a simple but powerful exercise in changing perspective. The brain is an incredible organ capable of adapting, building new pathways, and creating thought patterns, both positive and negative. Not only does our brain allow for such plasticity, but it also tends to be efficient. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage. It allows us to come to conclusions quickly based on patterns of information that we have already experienced. It can also mean having our thoughts take the path of least resistance, the path of what is habitual.

Think of your mind as a pathway in the forest. The more it is tread upon, the easier it is to walk down. The less used a pathway is, the more overgrown and difficult the terrain. Thoughts that we have often become easier to access, while those we have less often take more effort. So what does this all have to do with gratitude? Well, regularly practicing gratitude strengthens that pathway in the brain, meaning that our brain will more easily and readily see the positive. On any given day there is too much information being processed and filtered by our senses to all be coded into memory or even come into conscious awareness. The more you focus on the positive, the more your brain looks for the positive and the more you will notice the positive.

Poppies on the pathway to my house

Let's put this into practice. For this to work, gratitude needs to be genuine, not defined by what we think we should be grateful for. Let's be honest, not every day is a great one. Some days are hard and filled with challenges. On those days your gratitude may focus on small experiences. The smell of your coffee in the morning. The feeling of the warm water from your shower. The strength in your muscles as you move through the day. Small gratitudes matter. Even more so on the days when they are hard to find. For me, one of the small gratitudes of today are these poppies growing beside my sidewalk. They were planted by the wind, and have grown in the small, shaded patch of grass between my sidewalk and the neighbour's fence. Every day there are new blossoms, so each time I open the door I don't know how many flowers there will be. It is a source of delight to me to see the fuzzy unopened buds and the skirt of petals from the blooms that catch the light perfectly at the end of the day. It is a small wonder, yet one that helps me connect to a sense of peacefulness.

What has delighted you today? What are you grateful for? Small delights are as welcome are large. Try out a gratitude practice for a month, and see how it impacts your overall mindset and sense of connectedness and positivity.

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