Practicing gratitude changed my life.
There’s a claim! For those of you that know me, you know that I am little allergic to the woo woo. Maybe it’s a legacy from twenty years in corporate, where my pragmatic side was able to excel, maybe it’s because I see so many posts in social media promising fantastical results with little to no effort required from you the client, which is plain dishonest. Either way, I’m not into the woo.
So going right out there and saying being grateful changed my life could be viewed as a bit fluffy, I’m here to explain why it’s not.
What is gratitude?
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus
It’s more than feeling thankful or saying thank you, we are socially conditioned to say thank you multiple times a day and often it’s an automatic response. It is less often that we truly feel a deep appreciation for something or someone.
The Harvard Medical School defines gratitude as ““a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something
larger than themselves as individuals–whether to other people, nature, or a higher power” .
How will practicing gratitude help me?
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
How many times have you had that moment of joy about something new and exciting? You’ve bought something for yourself, a new outfit, a car, a phone… for a while we have that buzz, and then of course the feeling fades. When we are able to consciously be grateful for something, when we bring our attention deliberately to it, then these feelings endure for significantly longer. This also ensures that we are in the moment, in the experience.
I have a period of my life, a few years in fact, where I struggle to recall what actually happened, it sounds mad but it feels like I was a passenger, that I was watching it play out as opposed to being in it. When I was able to start being mindful – either choosing to recall daily or consciously focussing on the here and now, there was a shift. Gradually I came back to consciousness, and I was in life as opposed to life happening to me.
“I looked around and thought about my life. I felt grateful. I noticed every detail. That is the key to time travel. You can only move if you are actually in the moment. You have to be where you are to get where you need to go.” – Amy Poehler
Research in the field of positive psychology shows that gratitude is “strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness” . The brain is plastic (see neuroplasticity) and as such we have the ability to change habits, behaviours, and beliefs. We can basically rewire ourselves and the way we think. Of course, it takes time and as with most things many of us give up before we have really mastered a new way of thinking. Interestingly for me, practicing gratitude was one of the new behaviours that I stuck with, to the point of involving the hubby daily in it too. Arguably this had much to do with why and how I stuck to it – accountability partners really do work! And having now been at it since 2019, I can truly say I see results. I am more satisfied with life; I am happier, and I am more optimistic.
“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret, and depression” . It can be so easy to focus on the negative, we are well practiced at writing off a whole day if something goes awry first thing… I got out of the wrong side of the bed … so the whole remainder of the day is a goner. When we choose to seek out and name what has gone well, we can shift our perspective and what may have been viewed as a terrible day initially is more realistically seen as an ok or even good day, where one or two things didn’t perhaps go as planned. Anyone who identifies with catastrophizing, and I count myself in there with you, this is a game changer.
And from this we dovetail so wonderfully into greater resilience, because when we can keep things in better perspective, when we can not necessarily love every second of everyday, but we can seek out something for which we are truly grateful, then we begin to be able to ride the inevitable waves with a greater degree of skill. And when we are more resilient it affects our self-worth, we start to experience that we can and do cope, that we are navigating our paths, in then comes trust – in ourselves; and it is from here that we see self-confidence. When I trust myself, my own knowing, my own capabilities, then this elusive thing called self-confidence just surfaces quietly.
How can I practice gratitude?
Ok sounds lovely, but how is it done?
I’ve spoken before about the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and I shall continue to sing their praises. It was the OMC that asked me to actually do something around gratitude. Prior to this, I had of course heard of the concept and read a little about it, but I hadn’t actually taken any steps to try and integrate into my routine, in any way.
But as part of homework for the course and having already committed to myself that if I was doing the course, I was doing it properly, I followed the request and had a go. And boy did I feel silly to begin with. Everyday, normally just before bed for me, we state three things from that day we are grateful for. That’s it. I swear that’s it. Another reason it has stuck probably, as I’m also not into the convoluted! On the shitty days I can be seen to resort to being grateful for my morning cup of coffee, but normally what happens is it becomes an increasing list and exchange about what has happened for us both that day. In that respect I value it now also as a bonding exercise with the hubby, it’s our catch up and a chance to share what’s going on for us. It also so frequently reminds me of just what has gone well that day, little things that perhaps I would skip over or forget otherwise. It’s a way for me of putting things in my memory bank.
There are other ways of course. You journalers out there can let loose on the page and then there is the simplest method of all, so beautifully captured in "Stop. Look. Go." by Brother David Steindle-Rast. It's under 3 minutes and it says more than I ever could.
Is there a downside to gratitude?
Not in my opinion, but as with all things I try to keep a light hold and I urge you to do so. We can so easily get into beating ourselves up when we don’t do something we think we should be doing, or something we have committed to. It’s the proven cause for so many failed diets – we have that day where we inhale the doughnut and feel so disappointed that we ditch healthy eating completely and leap headfirst into a bucket of KFC. When in reality it was just a doughnut – and who doesn’t want one of those? So light touch, there will be days when we don’t feel it, where everything does feel crap. There will be days when we get caught up in everything else and don’t take the time to practice. It will be there tomorrow; you start again then.
So of course, I am going to say try it. It’s the easiest “thing” I have ever come across in this journey of development and growth and it works. It really has changed my life.
If you are curious about how I can work with you , you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial one hour coaching session with me here and there's no hassling from me if it's a no thanks after that.
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 Harvard Medical School https://www.health.harvard.edu
 UC Davis Health Centre: Gratitude is good Medicine. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.