Today, many words have become so liked with modern yoga that we get numb to what they actually mean. For example, words like bliss, peace, and gratitude are plastered all over yoga clothes and social media that they lose their meaning and effectiveness and become diluted along the way. I must admit, however, that gratitude really is as magical as it is often made out to be. So, here’s some information on why it’s important to work on our gratitude practice and some easy steps to “ hack” negativity.
Our Negativity Bias
Evolution has gifted humans a double-edged sword: a negativity bias. That is, our brains are wired to be more strongly influenced by negative events, feelings, and thoughts than comparably positive information. This negativity bias has been essential to the survival of our species: it has allowed us to avoid unpleasant, dangerous, and potentially life-threatening circumstances.
For example, if I am walking through a forest and see a large object in the distance, it would be more beneficial to my survival to assume the object is a dangerous animal rather than a harmless bush. If I assume it’s a predator, regardless of whether I am right or wrong, I will take precautions and likely survive. If I assume it’s a harmless bush and I am wrong, then I am dead.
Of course, in our modern world, this negativity bias rarely protects us from danger. Instead, it creates a lot of unnecessary rumination and worry about events past, present, and future; indeed, our brains have wired our alert system so well that we are also incredibly good at worrying. This bias, coupled with a 24-hour news cycle, can overload our brain with stress and worry to the point that it can be difficult to find positivity, never mind cultivate it.
This means that not only are we very skilled at finding the negative in our circumstances and giving it more weight, but we are also expert worriers! Coupled together, our negativity bias and our worrisome nature make it very challenging and unnatural to notice and appreciate the glass-half-full perspective. Instead, this nature allows us to feel stressed, unhappy, and forever in search of a quick fix for some fleeting pleasure (think: Netflix binge, shopping, food, alcohol, drugs, whatever!).
If only there existed a tool we could use to help counteract our negativity bias…….
Fortunately, there is a hack for improving well-being and contentment and it is surprisingly easy to incorporate into your daily life: gratitude!
Yoga philosophy and Patanjali’s eight-limbed path includes the concept of santosha loosely translated as contentment. Contentment isn’t something most people just have, it takes time, effort, and practice.
One of the most promising aspects of gratitude practice is that it is easy to implement, and it is generally a “self-reinforcing” behavior. This means people enjoy the practice and so are more likely to make it a part of their routine. Here are some tips and tools for cultivating your practice.
- Choose a Method
There are a couple of methods to choose for your gratitude practice. Your practice can be a handwritten or use an app ( Post- It notes, a journal, the Notes app on your phone). Or keep it even more simple, your practice can be contemplative — simply taking a moment of your day to think of the things you feel grateful for. Just pick one that works for you!
- Make Practice Habitual
To make sure you practice gratitude habitually, create a reminder! For example, I choose to contemplate gratitude each morning as I make my coffee and feed the pets. This ensures that I practice at least once a day and that I never forget since I have three furry reminders circling my ankles! ( Who I am very grateful for!) So, opt for a cue that occurs daily — like after brushing your teeth in the morning or after turning your phone on silent before going to bed. Again… keep it simple.
- Go Wide
Allow yourself to include in your practice anything and everything that comes to mind. You don’t need to limit your contemplation to the big and life-changing themes. I have found that including anything — no matter how trivial they may seem — gives me a greater appreciation for the things I would not normally notice. For example, I am often grateful for my first sip of morning coffee, discovering a new song, a delicious new recipe, waking up after a good night’s sleep, or even a nice breeze. During my practice, I’m often surprised at how easily things come to mind. I try and keep it to 3- 5 things a day otherwise I can write for a while, but if you are starting out just see whatever comes to mind.
- Go Deep
Don’t worry if you find the same things come up again and again. You don’t need to think of something new and creative every time you practice. Allow your nuggets of gratitude to emerge organically, even if it means you are grateful for the same things day after day. The purpose of the practice is not to force yourself to think of new things, but instead, to notice and sit with whatever comes to mind. Sometimes going deep on one item allows you to truly see the value of it in your life. For example, if I appreciate a good night sleep often, it also makes me appreciate and value blocking out time to sleep, my sleep hygiene practices and also helps me avoid things that make me have a “ less-than” night, like eating too late or watching tv in bed.
- Pass it on
You don’t need to be a preacher of gratitude, but you can encourage others along the thankfulness path. When I realized the measurable payoff my personal practice delivered, I wanted my best friend to benefit too. So, I began to share with her the things I was thankful for — especially when I was thankful for something she did or said.
We can’t change the fact that millennia of evolution have gifted us with brains wired to notice, fixate, and stress on the negative. Fortunately, there is a very potent remedy — a small daily dose of gratitude practice does wonders to counteract your negative outlook. What I find so remarkable, is that unlike my meditation or movement practice, which takes time, effort, and dedication, gratitude only takes a moment and has a very big bang for your buck. So, find a daily cue and practice gratitude — you’ll be grateful you did.
And speaking of gratitude, I’d like to say a special thank you to Key Largo Yoga, our lovely community of yogis and especially to Kathy Shirley. My time here in Key Largo getting to practice, and then teach has meant more than words can say. While I’m looking forward to this next adventure in my life, Key Largo Yoga will always be in my heart and feel a little bit like home. Thank you all for welcoming me with open arms and I look forward to seeing what the team is up to right here on the blog and hope to come back soon and visit.