This 21 days of gratitude challenge might change your life
It’s is becoming more and more apparent that we need to slow down to help improve our health and wellbeing. As the old saying goes, less is actually more. And mindfulness is a tool that can help us stop and smell the roses so to speak.
By being more mindful, we can become more connected to life. Do you find yourself caught up in thoughts, forgetting to notice the world around you? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A Harvard study found that our minds wander for 47% of the day. Doing that means we could ‘miss out’ on almost half our lives!
Mindfulness allows us to slow down and tune in to our external environment. It can help us and notice beautiful events, such as flowers blooming in the spring, and help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings without judging ourselves for things we may have said or done.
Mindfulness has a range of benefits to both emotional and physical health. One of the main benefits is that it can give us is a more measured response to a given situation. It can help us be less reactive and allow a calmer approach. Regular practice of mindfulness has the potential to:
- Improve mental health; reducing stress and anxiety
- Improve attention and concentration which and may help with positive behaviour change
- Boost working memory and focus
- Boost resilience to negative events
- Reduce overall stress and therefore potentially improve physical health through lowering blood pressure, improving sleep and reducing inflammation and chronic pain.
Eight weeks of mindfulness practice has been shown to change the shape of our brain, as well as encouraging our brain towards more positive feelings and thoughts. Think greater resilience, increased self-awareness, improved empathy, better emotional control, increased generosity and better mood.
According to research from Stanford University’s Prof. Luskin we are said to have 60,000 thoughts per day. Although we may not have control over the first thought that fires in our mind, we can control how long we dwell on these thoughts, and how we respond to them. A regular mindfulness practice can help create a distance between us and our thoughts. With practice, we can choose if we are going to accept or reject these thoughts and associated emotions as they move across our minds like clouds passing in the sky.
The science of gratitude
Gratitude is a form of mindfulness that can help us slow down and take a beat to notice all that’s good in our lives – even the small things we might usually take for granted. Expressing gratitude can help us cultivate appreciation for our lives and help us see the world with different eyes. This can have a profound difference on our stress levels and general wellbeing.
Over the past 20 years scientists have examined the origins of gratitude from an evolutionary perspective, looking into the potential benefits and positive implications of cultivating a daily gratitude practice.
In one study conducted by psychologists Dr. Emmons from the University of California and Dr. McCullough from the University of Miami, participants were assigned to three groups. Group one wrote a list of daily hassles, such as burning their toast or being stuck in traffic; group two listed what they were grateful for each week such as the smell of their morning coffee or the sunrise over the horizon; and group three recorded neutral life events.
The three groups kept weekly or daily records of their moods, coping and health behaviours, physical symptoms and overall life appraisal. Researchers found that the group with a daily gratitude practice experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits.
Taking stock of what we’re grateful for can also help distract us from the things in life which are not so great. It helps us focus on what we have in our life, instead of focusing on what we don’t have, or what we ‘think’ we need. Instead of always reaching for something new in the pursuit of happiness − whether it be material possessions or something about ourselves − gratitude helps us refocus on what we have, instead of what we lack.
It’s time for a challenge – 21 days of gratitude!
You don’t need anything fancy to take part in the below challenge. Just a few minutes each day to mindfully focus and reflect on the prompt. If you’d like to, you can jot down your answers in a diary or on a scrap of paper. Writing down what you are grateful for has extra benefits, in that you can revisit your thoughts at that moment later in time.
For the first week you will be offering gratitude to yourself for all the marvellous things that make you who you are. Too often we are our harshest critic, so be kind to yourself and this week put yourself first 😊.
Think how lucky you are to be alive and thriving. You are a unique human being with a unique purpose. Be grateful for all you have accomplished. Be grateful for any mistakes that guided you along to the right path. Be grateful for the people you loved and love. Be grateful for your life.
For the second week you’ll continue your daily gratitude practice, but you will be practicing gratitude for the people in your life. To get you started this week, begin to think of all the people in your life who have had a positive impact on you. Your friends, family, mentors, the person who serves you coffee or even your pets. Creatures count! Think about why you are grateful for each person and how they make you feel.
Being kind is a key part of gratitude and you have a kindness task on day two this week. To learn more about the benefits of kindness check out this awesome podcast with Dr. Chatterjee and Dr. David Hamilton who discuss some of the emerging research on how kindness makes you happier, improves your relationships, is good for your heart and supports your immune system!
This week is about continuing your personal daily gratitude practice, as well as practicing gratitude for the world around you. In this final week, feel the gratitude growing within you then feel the joy of gratitude expanding outwards, from you to your external environment and the world we live in. The world is filled with beauty and we are blessed to have amenities and services that allow us to engage with our world and enjoy our lives.
Take a moment to stop, look around you, and take it all in. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and inspiring speaker suggests happiness stems from gratitude. In a TED Talk he speaks about how we need to slow down and allow gratefulness to change our view of the world – a great reminder for all of us.
Enjoy rediscovering the world around you this week.
Can’t get enough? Add in a weekend mini challenge
If you’ve got some downtime in the weekend, why not add in a positive affirmation task? Positive affirmations can challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts and remind you just how amazing you are. Sound awkward? Give it a go anyway 😉
There’s a body of research around the neuroscience of positive affirmations and, if done the right way, it can have some great benefits.
How to do it:
Stand in front of the mirror and say aloud five good things about yourself.It could be single words about your attributes such as ‘kind’, ‘loyal’, ‘loving’, ‘confident’, ‘strong’ etc., or it could be about your talents or your past achievements. All you need to do is say the words out loud such as “I am kind, I am strong, I am content,” and notice the feelings going on in your body and your mind as you do this. Repeat as often as you wish.
If you don’t know where to start check out this article with some insight and practical tips on how to incorporate positive affirmations into your life.
Our top tips for starting a gratitude mindset
- As soon as you wake up in the morning (before you reach for your phone!), engage in a positive thought. This is when your brain is the most receptive and your thoughts are more easily imprinted on the unconscious. Starting the day on a positive note can set you up for the rest of the day with a more optimistic mindset.
- Converse to the above, practicing gratitude just before bed can help increase serotonin and allow you to have a more restful sleep. Whether you go with day, night or both, pick a time when you will have minimal distractions i.e. kids or pets that are wanting your attention!
- Keep your gratitude journal or notepaper and pen by your bedside table or in the same spot.
- Don’t overthink it – simply jot down the first thing that comes to mind.
- If it’s not proving easy and you miss a day here and there, that’s okay; it takes time to build a habit. Be kind to yourself. Tomorrow is a new day.
Cultivate gratitude into the future
If you enjoyed this challenge and you’d like to keep up your gratitude practice here are some ideas on how to cultivate gratitude in the future:
- Create a gratitude jar with your household and write one thing you are grateful for each day. Over time these will mount up and when you need a morale booster take a note out of the jar to remind yourself that there is so much to be grateful for.
- Rename your alarm with a nice message to make you smile each morning.
- On days when things don’t quite go to plan, try and think of one good thing that came out of a bad situation.
- Write the word gratitude on a crystal or stone. Place it somewhere you will see, or feel it often such as in a pocket, on a shelf in your room or on your desk and it can serve as a reminder to keep your gratitude practice going.
Gratitude at the dinner table
- Get the whole household on the gratitude train. Start practicing gratitude before you eat your meal. Each person in the household names one thing that they were grateful for in the day. It’s a good conversation starter and a great way of turning a potentially bad day into a good one, purely by focusing on what went well! Kids love this activity too!
We’ll leave you with one last gratitude fact. If you make a habit of writing down three things you are grateful for each day, no matter how small they might be, that’s is over 1,000 positive hits of happiness in one year! Surely that’s got to make you feel good!
Want to know more about gratitude and journaling? Check out this article we published on the benefits of a gratitude journal and how to keep one.
Yours in gratitude!
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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