Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is a powerful way to live mindfully, paying attention to and giving thanks for the good things in our lives. Gratitude can provide a shift in perspective and help us find purpose and hope.

It’s important to understand that gratitude cannot exist until we validate and process our uncomfortable emotions.

When we’re experiencing frustration, grief, or uncertainty, common responses are sentiments like “Who am I to complain when there are people who have it so much worse than me?” (this is comparative suffering, a system of ranking pain that only makes us feel worse) or “It’s selfish to feel like this when I have so much to be thankful for.”

Dismissing emotions is a form of gaslighting, and it compounds the pain. Accepting what we’re feeling without trying to deny, numb, or run from it will allow us to move through the emotion and get to a place of clarity where we see that we can feel something difficult AND we can feel thankful.

We are strong enough to straddle this paradox.

Pause

Our brains create emotions as immediate reactions to environmental stimuli.

Emotions are based on sensory input and memories, and only last 90 seconds – anything longer than that is not the emotion anymore but the story we are making up about it; dwelling in our feeling about the trigger, like when we stew in self-righteous anger.

Emotions are neither positive nor negative, and we can’t control how our brains produce these reactions – but we can control how we respond to them.

We can get curious, label the emotion, notice how it feels in our body, and choose what to do next.

This prevents us from getting hijacked and falling into habitual patterns, and gives us the agency to make productive choices that create new neural pathways in the brain.

When we pause, we harness our power.

Roots

What’s the real story when we feel jealousy flare? Could it be the fear that we are inadequate in comparison?

What’s driving our insecurity? Could it be shame, that insidious lie that we are unworthy of belonging and love?

What’s beneath our impatient temper? Could it be our forceful resistance when people or situations don’t ascribe to the way we think they should be?

Is our anxiety really just the fear that we have no control, and our terror of the unknown?

Our emotions are clues; signposts that guide us to go beyond the surface and deeper into the terrain of our inner worlds. When we follow this map, we discover in our minds the gnarled twists of old programming that we can acknowledge without believing and rewrite in new ways to empower us to pause, reflect, and respond judiciously rather than react instinctively when we’re hooked by old patterns.

If we can hold our anger, our sorrow, and our fear with the energy of mindfulness, we will be able to recognize the roots of our suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Language

When we use accurate and specific words to describe our emotions, we are able to process them with more efficiency and empowerment.

We can identify with our feelings without being defined or directed by them.

The mindful practice of affect labeling builds awareness, compassion, equanimity, and resilience.

Language gives us a neurobiological handle on what feels too amorphous and gauzy to grab.

Brené Brown