At last! After spending half the year eagerly planning our summer escapes, we have finally arrived in the holiday season that we’ve been patiently waiting for. London’s parks are heaving, the rooftop bars are full and the positive vibes are spreading as the sun continues to shine; it is England’s chance to sparkle under the summer spotlight. And oh, how glorious it is, or at least it was at the time of writing- who knows what will happen when this is published! Either way, read on to discover how I truly dropped into holiday mode and bought that feeling to my everyday life with the practice of gratitude.
This year on the first day of my summer escape, I challenged myself to be still and discover what it was that helped me slow down after the high-stress, fast paced mode of city living. I found the most profound shift occurred during a simple practice of gratitude; a conscious state of reflection and appreciation, eliciting the feeling of pleasure and thanks; the definition of gratitudo, its Latin origin. But it didn’t end there. This practice felt greater than a mere holiday switch, so I went deeper. I discovered that with regular, conscious cultivation a simple practice of gratitude holds the potential to transform your body, mind and spirit. Allow me to explain how…
Our thoughts are physical. Every thought that we have fires an electrical signal in our brain that sends a current through our neural pathways. If we think something repeatedly, the neural pathway for that thought becomes thicker and stronger; the thought creates a physical structure in our brain that produces our behaviour, habits and characteristics – the electrical construction of our being, if you will. The impact of this process is realised when considering that the reinforcement of negative thoughts strengthens the neural networks that maintain mental states such as anxiety or depression.
The latest official publication of Mental Health statistics for England (2018) stated ‘an estimated 1 in 6 people experienced ‘a common mental disorder’ like depression or anxiety in the past week’ (and these are only the reported cases). The majority of these cases are women between the ages of 16 – 24; We need to take responsibility and find preventative tools to strengthen our minds and protect us against life’s stressors. We must not underestimate the fragility of our minds.
Consider for a moment how words affect you; when someone says something loving versus critical, how does your body experience this? When your thoughts are self-negating versus self-loving, do you notice a difference?
To consciously cultivate an attitude of gratitude has the potential to strengthen your neural pathways that maintain positive mental states and protect us from stress, depression and anxiety. Studies have demonstrated that a practice of gratitude effectively improves cardiovascular health, happiness, social relationships and wellbeing amongst others (Wood, Joseph and Maltby, 2009; Lambert and Fincham, 2011; Diener and Chan, 2011).
The only way to truly understand its power is to try it out: Find a comfortable position, whether you are sitting, standing, lying down or curled up in a ball. Close your eyes and think of something you are grateful for – this can be anything from your breath to your surroundings to your loved ones and beyond. After a few minutes, place your left hand on your heart and smile. With each exhale, repeat the mantra: ‘I am grateful’. Feel the gratitude in your body and allow your heart energy to expand
This can be practiced however often you feel is necessary but I suggest a mindful practise of a few minutes each day. It’s the perfect season to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and initiate the transformation from the inside out.
Jessie Fuller was born in Kenya to British-Chinese parents and raised multi-culturally in Croatia, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. She has a degree in Psychology and Sociology and is currently living in London, completing her Masters in Psychoanalytic Studies at Birkbeck University. While she continues to work in the psychosocial field, she connects to her Eastern roots through her yoga teaching and practice (www.fullerflow.co.uk ). Her intention is to merge her academic background in western psychology with a holistic, Eastern approach to healing and combine the best of both worlds in her writing and practice.