Happy New Year! I think, as we start a new year, we’re all searching for some peace and clarity about what we hope for in the year to come and how to interpret the year gone by. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll notice I often post pictures of my daily walks on the beach. Not only does the ocean inspire me, but it also brings me calm and connection to my surroundings. 

I find that the two things that keep me centered and focused on what’s important in life are connecting with nature and practicing gratitude. 

I started gratitude journaling at the suggestion of my business coach. I felt like I was getting great results for my clients, but not getting the results I wanted for my family and myself. Her very first suggestion before diving into the business side was to work with me on my mindset. We started every meeting by talking about what was going well, and that transitioned into meditating and gratitude journaling, which I now do daily.

These days I couldn’t imagine my life without mindset work! Connecting with nature gives me energy and clarity to power through busy days and life’s challenges. And when I express gratitude, it gives me the ability to see that even during adverse times, there’s always something to be thankful for.

Read on to find out more about these life-changing practices. 

The Negativity Bias: How We’re Hardwired to Focus on the Negative

The negativity bias is a human phenomenon that makes us more likely to dwell on negative thoughts than positive ones. It helps explain why one bad moment can ruin an entire day. 

Here are some examples of negativity bias

  • Your child comes home from school in a bad mood. When you ask about it, they tell you that they got into a fight with a friend. Even if the rest of their day was great, they can only focus on that one negative event.
  • You have gorgeous architectural details in your home, but your eye is drawn to the peeling paint every time you look at the molding.
  • You’re enjoying a beautiful walk when suddenly an off-smell makes you recoil.

Most of the time, we’re not even aware of this bias. Our brains are hardwired to dwell on the negative, and it’s been a useful evolutionary skill.

The negativity bias is necessary to alert us to danger and avoid catastrophe. Early humans would need to be attuned to any threats to ensure chances of survival. In our modern world, though, we’re bombarded with information and experiences. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with negative thoughts, which affects our mental health.

The good news is that by practicing gratitude and finding moments during the day to connect to well-being and abundance, we can overcome this negativity bias for a more balanced view of our world and our experiences!

Benefits of Connecting with Nature

My walks on the beach here in Southampton aren’t just good for my physical health. It’s a way for me to slow down, breathe, find inner peace, and stay

connected to what inspires me as a designer. Seeing the rolling waves, the ever-changing colors of the sky, and feeling the sand beneath my feet also reinforces my commitment to protecting nature through sustainable design.

Research has shown that being in nature has a multitude of beneficial health effects for adults and children both, including:

  • Reduced stress due to decreased levels of cortisol 
  • A greater feeling of connection to the world and the people in our lives
  • Better attention and focus— especially for children
  • Improved adaptability and problem-solving skills

All of this just from taking a walk! 

Connecting with nature couldn’t be easier. Find a beautiful park in your neighborhood, or your favorite beach, or a wooded trail. As often as you can, make time to take a walk— if you only have ten minutes, that’s ok! Even a short amount of time can reduce stress levels. 

Take a moment to look around you, and appreciate the beauty you see. Take big breaths and notice how invigorating the fresh air is. Return as often as you can.

Benefits of Cultivating a Gratitude Practice

“Fundamentally, gratitude is about appreciating what *IS*, being thankful for what you have and experience, rather than focusing on what is (supposedly) lacking. It doesn’t mean ignoring or repressing the negative, but rather knowing that there is always something for which we can be thankful, even in our darkest hours.”Erin Lynn Raab, PhD

Even though our minds evolved to focus on the negative, we don’t have to give into it. Our brains are also plastic, which means we can change how our mind operates for improved health and well-being.

Here are just a few of the benefits of cultivating gratitude:

  • Better resilience for life’s challenges
  • Improved health and well-being
  • Reduced anxiety and rumination (over-thinking things)
  • Enhanced self-esteem

Being grateful for the people in our lives and the things we have allows us to clear the mental fog of negativity. This frees up energy to tackle new projects and goals. 

Imagine your endless to-do list: paint the house, help the kids with their homework, organize the office, finish that big project at work. Now imagine easily crossing off those to-dos because you’re energized and full of positivity bias. You see answers to problems with clarity. Setbacks aren’t as difficult because you have the resilience to get through them. 

Since starting my own gratitude practice I’ve grown my business to a scale I couldn’t even imagine when I first started. And I have a greater appreciation for my family and everything I have in life.

How to Cultivate Gratitude

It takes a bit of time and commitment to develop a meaningful gratitude practice. There are many ways to do it, but here’s a starting point:

  • Find a pretty journal or simply grab a notebook that you can use.
  • Start your practice first thing in the morning when you wake up, or make it the last thing before you go to bed at night.
  • Take a few moments to breathe deep, clearing breaths. Sit quietly in a favorite spot in your home. Now would also be a great time to meditate.
  • Now think about the past few days. Did anything of note happen? Maybe a friend helped you talk through a problem, or your child brought you flowers. Try to think of at least three things.
  • Write it in your journal, and try to be specific. Example: “I’m grateful for my friend taking the time to listen to me” is more effective than, “I’m grateful for my friend.”
  • Do this daily to cultivate a positivity bias and a new appreciation for everything good in your life!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a gratitude journal? What’s your favorite way to connect with nature?

Share in the comments below!

January 01, 2024 — Shannon Willey