In the US, it’s that time of year again: the beginning of the holiday season. First up, American Thanksgiving. From an historical context, this holiday and the ‘facts’ we Americans know about it have their problems. In the modern era, the day has become associated with overeating, dealing with disagreeable relatives, and watching a lot of football. But at its core, both historically and currently, there is something truly lovely that Thanksgiving reminds Americans to do – be grateful.
Speaking for myself, fellow Americans I know, and the general aura we project as a nation, we are not great at gratitude. So, an annual holiday that reminds us to give thanks – whether we do it in a spiritual or secular context – isn’t a bad thing.
Earlier this year, I began a (sporadic) practice of meditation to help focus my energy and calm my nerves in these…er…troubling (to say the least) times. One of the most interesting guided meditations I’ve done is to be used before a meal. It leads the listener through a series of gratitude exercises, thinking about each person who ‘touched’ the food – from planting to harvesting, to packaging and shipping, to stocking shelves and checking out food at the store – and being grateful for the way each of them contributed to getting that food in front of you. Even for the most basic salad, it takes a village to make a meal.
As I’ve gotten back on track with my writing and have been following the Jen Louden’s GSSD (Get Scary Shit Done) program, I’ve been reminded by her lessons and my own reflection to be grateful for all the things that allow my writing time to happen, from the weird way my brain works to create story, to the amazing technology that allows me to get it all out onto the page. Even during a crappy day of writing, I can find reasons for gratitude. I’m grateful when I have the strength and energy to show up, the support of other writers when the going gets really tough, other stories to read for inspiration and solace when my own story is stuck (like my WIP is today). And it turns out, I’m reaping a whole host of positive things from simply finding and reflecting upon a reason to be grateful every day.
Gratitude and Mood. We all have bad moods. They are part of the human condition, and as with all things brain-related, have their place in our adaptability and survival as a species. But we also all suffer from the negative consequences of bad moods. Exhaustion. Depression. Inability to get our shit done. While having bad moods is unavoidable, getting stuck in them might not be so inevitable.
Next time you find yourself in a bad mental place, find a quiet place and make a mental list of things that make you feel grateful. Research shows that taking as little as two minutes to be grateful can shift our mood in a positive direction. And making a regular practice of gratitude actually rewires our brains, increasing positive neural pathways.
Gratitude and Energy. One of the positive results of gratitude practice that is most exciting to me is its ability to positively effect energy levels. This is possibly related to its positive effects on sleep. As a lifelong insomniac, anything that offers a safe, effective, non-drug-induced approach to better sleep is worth its weight in gold to me. The theory is that the mood lift and brain rewiring caused by gratitude reduces anxiety, a great sleep disruptor for many people **raises hand**. Less anxiety equals better sleep. Better sleep equals more energy. Also, energy not spent on anxiety and worry is energy that can be better spent elsewhere, say on your creative projects…
Gratitude and Creativity. While positive effects on mood and energy are all fine and good, we creative types are always asking: But how will this impact my writing [or other creative endeavor]? There is good news on this front, as well. The positive impact on mood and energy can open up the creative floodgates. Your brain has more energy to use toward creative problem-solving.
Stress and anxiety lead to the fight/flight/freeze response. These are survival mode defaults. When you’re worried about survival, whether it’s physical or emotional, it’s not the time for creative thinking. When you feel safer and less stressed, you’ll be more willing to step outside the bounds of tried and true solutions, and embrace ‘outside the box’ thinking, the kind of thinking necessary for creativity.
Do you have a gratitude practice, and if so, have you noticed positive effects? If you don’t, have you thought about trying it? Now’s your chance. Post one or two things for which you’re grateful in the comments, and wait for the boost to your mood, energy, and creativity to begin!
Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it, and let me take this opportunity to say I’m grateful for each of the Eight Ladies, and all our readers who make this such a wonderful community.