Years ago when I was in my difficult season of life—recovering from two back-to-back divorces—I was ruminating on all of the challenges associated with raising my kids as a single mom, co-running a company, making sure I could pay the mortgage and crawling out of a heap of financial challenge.
I had one friend who was my sounding board. One day she said, “You’re unhappy—not because of what you’re not getting but because of what you’re not giving.”
I have to admit. In the moment that hurt just a bit. Given the mess I was in, I was looking for some relief, some easy happiness and for the hardship to simply go away. I was me focused.
I’m kind of a one-step-at-a-time gal, so I began to think about one thing. A starting place.
I began to visit an aunt who was homebound. She was so happy to see me each time I came for a visit. Did you know human contact leads our brain to release dopamine and serotonin? These crucial neurotransmitters are responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel better immediately, even happy.
I noticed it.
I also discovered when I was thinking about Aunt Norma—and the next time I would go for a visit—I was thinking less about me and my problems.
When we’re thinking about spreading joy for others, we’re using up some of the valuable space in our brain that we might otherwise use to feel sorry for ourselves and ruminate on our problems.
So, let’s get the dopamine and serotonin flowing. Below are three ways gratitude will help generate these feel-good emotions:
Three Ways Gratitude Helps You
#1: You will learn to appreciate the small pleasures in your life.
Appreciating small pleasures in life starts with pausing to think about what they are. Even in the midst of difficulty, you can find things that bring you pleasure. For me, back in those difficult days—and to this day—I love hot tea in the morning, lit vanilla spice candles, and reading a novel purely for pleasure. I also loved raking leaves, watching my kids’ ball games and enjoying a one-hour visit over a glass of wine with a girlfriend. I don’t believe I was always intuitive enough to feel grateful then, but I do now…at the smallest of pleasures. Over the years, I’ve learned that pleasure can exist in the midst of pain. Happiness and sadness can co-exist. Difficulty and ease can co-exist. What we choose to focus on can become a habit.
#2: You will feel more content.
The habit of enjoying small pleasures will lead to contentment.
I believe many women misunderstand what it means to be happy. We’ve all experienced—I hope—the feeling of pure, laugh-out-loud happiness. This kind of happiness is wonderful. It’s also difficult to cultivate daily.
Happiness can also be about contentment. This is the sense that you have enough, that you’re okay.
When you’re feeling sad, pause for a moment to think about a simple thing to feel grateful for, one that can foster contentment. It might be your morning cup of coffee, snuggling up on the couch with a novel—purely for pleasure and even escape, a wonderful meal, a walk with your dog, a conversation with a cherished friend.
When you intentionally connect with—and feel grateful for—the simple pleasures, comforts and conveniences that you have in your life, contentment will become a constant companion.
#3: You will experience improved relationships.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
Let’s not be shy about this one—you will be more likable to others. Yes, it’s true. If you are more grateful and less complainy, you will be more enjoyable to others. They will like spending time with you. And, when you feel liked, it’s easier to like others.
If you focus on what you’re grateful for within the people around you, rather than what you’re annoyed by, you will enjoy people more. This is a mindset you can choose.
It will always be easy to find things that are frustrating or annoying. There is something about human nature here.
As you look around at the people in your life, focus on what you enjoy, appreciate and admire about each of them.
This is a perfect week to focus on gratitude. And, with a new year upon us, 2021 could become a year of gratitude.
XOXO Have a joyful, grateful Thanksgiving.