116. New Reasons (and Ways) to Celebrate Thanksgiving: A Special Episode with Lori

In this very special solo episode, I’m talking about gratitude.

But let’s dig into it from a different perspective.

We’ll be starting with a seemingly random question – are you interested in getting high?

Because that’s one of the neurological effects gratitude has on us – no sketchy dealer required.

It involves a particular chemical in our brains that makes us feel more gratitude, sleep better, alleviate stress and handle it better, strengthen our immune system so we’re healthier, reduce depression and anxiety, and so much more.

Remember: you may think you’re feeling fine, but Fine is a 4-letter word.

In a moment, you will discover how to get a hold on this “wonder drug” (you may have guessed by now, but let’s find out) and also adopt five simple practices that help you experience gratitude – a fitting sentiment for Thanksgiving Day.

Given everything you’re about to discover, it seems particularly fitting that I share a quote from an unlikely philosopher – Willie Nelson. He said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

At 90 years old, he might have learned some of the things we’re about to explore together.

Resources:

Invitation from Lori:

As we head into the holiday season, you might find yourself missing out on gratitude, lacking sleep, stressed out to the max, feeling physically ill, depressed, anxious, and more.

What better time to take a step back – even if you can’t get away just now.

Visit my website at https://zenrabbit.com right now and download the 5 Easy Ways to Start Living The Sabbatical Life guide.

Once you read it, you’ll discover some of what’s been holding you back and keeping you stuck. It’s only 7 pages, so it won’t take you long to get through. And the five tactics are pretty simple, but once you follow even ONE of them, you’re in for a profound change.

It’s time to say F*ck Being Fine and find your calm in chaos. This guide is the place to start. It’s time to experience joy on this day of Thanksgiving!

Transcript

This is the Thanksgiving 2023 episode, so it only makes sense to talk about gratitude. But let’s dig into it from a different perspective.

Before we do that, let me give you a bit of an update on what’s happening in my world. If you follow me on social or are on the email newsletter list, you may have heard some of this. So I gave up my apartment in northern VA at the beginning of October and have been living the nomad life since. I’ve been house and mostly cat, but one dog, sitting. This adventure has taken me to Culpeper VA, Harpers Ferry WV, Louisville and Lexington KY. This week I’m in Augusta GA because it’s close to where my cousin lives so I can spend the holiday with her family.

In between, I was at a conference in Chicago, staying with a friend in Cincinnati, and visiting my dad in south Florida. Most of December and into early January I’ll be in Bluffton SC on two different house and kitty sits, in large part because one of my best friends from high school lives there, so I’ll be able to spend Christmas with her and her fam. I love exploring new areas and finding all the good places to eat and where to get the best ice cream or cupcakes.

I like to work in coffee shops, especially the independently owned ones. They’re usually fun and cozy and have a cool vibe. You may know though that I don’t drink coffee. One of the remarkable things about Kentucky was that every coffee shop had loose leaf tea. As a tea snob, this made me so happy – to be able to enjoy a good cup of tea.

And I was especially thrilled to find a delicious blend called Abundance at Third Street Stuff & Coffee in Lexington.

What I’ve learned… people are incredibly curious about this lifestyle. Anytime I mention it to someone, they’re intrigued, and often a bit envious. But most seem to have a reason why they can’t or wouldn’t do it themselves. I think that mostly comes down to fear though.

The cats I’ve stayed with have super sharp claws. I used to clip my cats’ claws so they wouldn’t give me puncture wounds or inadvertently scratch me to ribbons. And also, so they didn’t get stuck when a claw would get caught on something. Apparently, clipping their claws is unusual.

What others are willing to tolerate in terms of cleanliness and the condition of their homes is very different from what I would deem acceptable. And… it’s helped me to become more accepting. Or maybe tolerant is the right word. I’m going to talk more about acceptance in a bit.

This has been a fun journey so far. I’ve accumulated a bunch of experiences and stories, which is what I set out for. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with several people I’ve previously only known through a Zoom screen. At the same time, honestly, it can be a little bit lonely. I’m getting to enjoy all these sites and flavors, and I’m mostly doing it alone. That’s not a complaint, it’s simply a statement. And an invitation. If you’d like to join me at any of these stops, c’mon along.

Now, let’s get into talking about gratitude. And some of the basics. Because even the pros know it’s always beneficial to revisit the foundational stuff regularly.

First, a seemingly random question - Are you interested in getting high? Because that’s one of the neurological effects gratitude has on us. No sketchy dealer required.

When you commit random acts of kindness and think about things that bring you joy and fill you with gratitude, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is one of the feel-good chemicals that gives you a natural high. The more you feel good, the more you want to feel good. So, you become inclined to do the thing that gave you that high over and over. Just like with any drug or addiction. Only this one is healthy and beneficial for you. Feeling gratitude wires your brain to want to feel more gratitude. You’re strengthening the neural pathways. And it becomes a vortex of joy.

This neurological effect then leads to reduced physical pain. A 2003 study called Counting Blessings vs. Burdens showed that when participants kept a gratitude journal, 16% felt their pain symptoms lessen.

Other studies have shown gratitude activates the hypothalamus. That’s the part of the brain that regulates many of the fundamental programs of the body, including sleep. The more grateful you are, the deeper and healthier you sleep. When your brain is filled with gratitude and kindness, the more likely you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and energetic every morning.

Feeling gratitude reduces cortisol (the stress hormone). When you’re stressed, your body courses with cortisol. Too much cortisol for too long, which is what happens in chronic stress situations, causes heart and circulation problems, increases in blood sugar, weight gain, headaches, and inflammation in the body. The more gratitude, the better cardiac and overall functioning of your body and the more resilient you become to emotional setbacks and negative experiences.

Many studies have established the fact that people who practice gratitude are better able to handle stress. By merely acknowledging and appreciating the little things in life, you can rewire your brain to deal with the present circumstances with more awareness and broader perspective.

Obviously, if you have less stress and inflammation in your body, your immune system will be stronger and function better. So you’ll be less likely to catch every cold, flu or virus that comes along. And your body will be more prepared to fight off any other random dis-ease that may come along.

Those are some of the physical effects of gratitude. By reducing the stress hormones and managing the autonomic nervous system functions, gratitude has also been proven to significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Why? Because feelings of gratitude cause an increase in the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain site responsible for managing negative emotions like guilt, shame, and violence. So grateful people are more empathetic and positive minded.

Gratitude literally changes the neural structure of the brain. Which means gratitude can actually change the way you see the world and yourself in it. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, you will ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within yourself.

Facebook memories recently showed me a post from 10 years ago of this quote:

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense out of the past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. " —Melody Beattie

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know how to experience and express gratitude. Still, sometimes you need a little push or a reminder of how powerful and vital gratitude exercises are. Dr. Amit Kumar did some research on gratitude exercises in 2018. Study participants were instructed to write notes to people who meant a lot in their lives – like teachers, spouses, or friends. These notes couldn’t be just “hey, thanks!” They had to express themselves in more detail and depth. The surprising part of this exercise was that most people finished writing their lengthy gratitude notes in less than five minutes. The not surprising part is that they then reported major feelings of contentment afterwards.

There’s a similar exercise in both the new Staying Calm in Chaos program as well as the F*ck Being Fine group program. The testimonials I’ve heard from people who’ve followed through on completing the letter writing are incredible. The effect it has on both you as the writer and on the recipient is powerful.

Speaking of the Staying Calm in Chaos program, I’ve got a crazy good Black Friday special running for that in the next few days. Pop over to BF.StayingCalminChaos.com to get it.

My word for 2023 has been CELEBRATE. Because I could do a better job of that. Of celebrating my wins. I’m guessing you could too. Here are five simple tips you can use to stop doubting and start celebrating yourself.

1. Express Gratitude for Yourself

Go to a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and speak out loud five good things about yourself. You can say something about past achievements or current efforts, your talents, your features. Compliment yourself with words like beautiful, proud, kind, loving, wise, etc., and notice how you feel. Repeat this as often as necessary until you stop feeling uncomfortable about it.

2. Gratitude Journal

You might have heard about this before. I’m not traditionally a fan of gratitude journals because they can become meaningless when you start writing the same things over and over and it turns into a chore to get through every day. However, if you do it as a review of your day, like I’m grateful for these X, Y, and Z things that happened today, it helps you consciously focus on and cement the good memories from the day before you drift into sleep. Which then sets the stage for a good night’s sleep and waking up better prepared for the next day.

3. Gratitude Visits

This is similar to the letter writing, but taking it a step further. Who do you have in your life who has shown the kind of unconditional support and help that’s meant a lot to you? Maybe you feel like you ‘owe’ your happiness and success to them. If you have such a person and it’s possible to do this, make time to meet them on the regular.

Time is the one resource you can never get back or create more of. So spending time with someone is the ultimate form of gratitude. I’m reminded of the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s a true story of Mitch’s visits with his favorite college professor after Morrie was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

4. Allow Yourself to be Happy

It’s completely crazy that some people won’t allow themselves to be happy. There are a lot of reasons for that and I’m not going to unpack all of them here. That’s deeper work we can do in the F*ck Being Fine coaching. However, start with when you feel happy, allow yourself to feel it. Every human and animal on the planet – including YOU – deserves to feel happy.

Allow yourself to celebrate! Doesn’t matter if it’s a giant achievement or a small success. Acknowledge your joy and feel gratitude in the moment. Accepting happiness makes you stronger and more grateful. And prepares you better for facing difficulties down the road.

5. Find a Gratitude Partner

Having someone to hold you accountable for finding and feeling gratitude in your day is a great way to sustain the motivation for this practice. It can be your life partner, your kid, or a friend at work. Text or call or sit down with them every day and share what you’re thankful for. Ask each other questions to dig out the moments you might easily otherwise forget. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You can do it in five minutes. Not only will you become more naturally grateful, you’ll also strengthen your emotional skills and your relationship with this person or people (if you’re doing it as a group accountability).

Just throwing it out there, this is yet another part of what we do in the F*ck Being Fine program. When you’re ready to embrace all the above-mentioned physical and emotional benefits of gratitude, prioritize taking care of yourself, and allow peace to replace chaos in your life, message me.

A new program starts at the beginning of the year. But don’t wait that long to reach out because it’s already filling up.

I’m going to leave you with another quote, from an unlikely philosopher – Willie Nelson. He said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” At 90 years old, he might have learned some things.

Count your blessings. Feel gratitude for all of them. Happy Thanksgiving.

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