Gratitude is a Muscle
By Dr. Glenn Fox, C4 Foundation Chief Science Officer
f you go to the gym for the first time in a year, would you expect to be at your fittest, or would you need to build your conditioning gradually? Obviously, physical fitness takes time, effort, and building muscle one step at a time. Emotional fitness works the same way — we can ‘train’ our minds to foster specific feelings and emotions that benefit us, but we have to look at them the same way we view going to the gym — with patience, practice, and proper form.
For example, this time of year, we hear a lot about the importance of gratitude, but we don’t often hear about how gratitude works, or how to best practice gratitude. We’re told of gratitude’s vast benefits (see the Greater Good Science Center’s Gratitude resource page for examples), including improved mental well being, better resilience, and closer social relationships. Hearing this can feel a bit overwhelming to people, and often hearing about how great gratitude is can cause some serious eye rolls when we don’t hear about how best to practice it.
So practice gratitude the way you would any muscle — little by little, building your way up. Start by taking a moment right now and look around at something that you can touch, see, smell or hear that shows you something good that you have. Take a breath and notice how it feels, even for one millisecond, to have the stress relief of this act of grateful noticing. Do this a few times a day for a week, and write down some of the best things you notice. Once that starts to feel like a solid habit, spend 10 minutes every other day, and read your entries and focus on some of the big highlights and see how long you can sustain that feeling of gratitude. Just like working out, we shouldn’t judge ourselves when practicing gratitude doesn’t solve all our problems right away, it takes individual reps to get stronger.
At the C4 Ranch, this is how we start working with families to build this skill of gratitude: we start every meeting, lesson, and meal with a note of things that went well in the past few days and share a quick “win” or two. This simple exercise compounds as we start to remember things we had completely overlooked.
Practicing gratitude little by little is like doing a pushup each time you say thanks. Though one pushup by itself doesn’t do much, with each pushup we get just a little stronger. Then when the workouts get heavy, through loss or stress, we amaze ourselves with how much we can lift through thankfulness.
Written By: Glenn R. Fox, PhD
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