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Steps to Greater Happiness Step 9 Gratitude

Have you noticed that you tend to spot what’s wrong before you notice what’s right? We can receive compliments for a meal we have cooked for a large group of people but all it takes is one person to have not said they enjoyed the meal and it’s that one person’s reaction that stays in our mind. We may have decorated a room and be delighted by the interior design but our eyes focus on the dirty finger marks on the window. During the current climate we are often bombarded with news stories. How much do we focus on the good news and how much do we focus on the negative news that feeds our heightened anxious and worried state of mind? This natural instinct to focus on the things that aren’t going well is called the “Negativity Bias”. Our brains are wired to notice what’s wrong before we notice what is right - it is designed to help us to stay safe. In the days when we were hunter gatherers this negativity bias helped us to notice and respond to threats like the sabre toothed tiger. This bias is less useful in our modern lives as most of us are not battling with sabre toothed tigers anymore! Unfortunately this negativity can lead to a constant feeling of discontent; anxiety or even helplessness, fear or anger. Unfortunately our positive emotions can be fleeting whereas our negative thoughts can occupy our minds and can often seem to go around in a constant loop. The first step in developing a more positive approach is to notice when your brain is focusing on the negative and to find a distraction from the all-consuming negative thoughts. Another important skill is to heighten your awareness of all the positive things that happen in your day. One idea I’ve previously shared is to use a gratitude stone. Find a small stone that holds a particular significance. It could be a gemstone, a pebble from a beach or one that you have found in the garden. Each morning put the stone in your pocket. Every time something happens in your day that is positive and that you're grateful for, touch the stone and silently say: Thank you. At the end of the day, place the stone in a special place and as you put it down, remember all of the positive things that happened that day.

A gratitude journal is another great way of reflecting on all the good things that have happened, writing down these positive thoughts can really help to shift to a more positive way of thinking. Some people like to journal every day others like to do it on a weekly basis. The frequency has to feel right for you.

“Drifting off with gratitude” before you go to sleep is another way of taking our thoughts away from the negativity bias towards a more positive way of thinking. I like to use the following prompts:

What is good in my life? What or who am I grateful to? What has gone well today?

You may find it hard at first to think about the positives but it doesn’t take long to start noticing them and to recall them at the end of the day.

I hope you find these ideas about developing gratitude useful in shifting your negativity bias to one of positivity. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, negativity or fear then please don’t hesitate to get in touch for support.

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