Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
—Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897)
Having a daily gratitude practice is a hot topic in the wellness world. Positive emotions have been linked with better health, longer life, and greater well-being in many scientific studies. We used to believe that happiness cultivated a feeling of gratitude but we are now learning that it is quite the opposite. Having an attitude of gratitude is generating more happiness among us.
We often hear people talking about their gratitude practice or describing how their morning routine involves a gratitude journal. In laymens terms this means that they are either writing down, speaking or thinking about all the things that they are grateful for in life. Weather you write down or speak the words stating exactly what you are most grateful for by tongue or on paper is having a daily gratitude practice. The statement or positive affirmation is ... I am grateful for..... followed by something you are happy about with life!
What is Gratitude?
The Harvard Medical School, says that gratitude is:
“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”
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin root gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. All derivatives from this Latin root “have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing” (Pruyser, 1976). Gratitude is a state of being and like most desirable traits and qualities in that it is usually not enough to simply decide to be grateful – we must actively practice it to reinforce its place in our lives.
Small changes lead to big transformations and having a daily gratitude practice can shift your whole perspective on the world.
How practicing gratitude changed my outlook on life;
My first real encounter with a daily gratitude practice came about 4 years ago. I was in a very sensitive emotional place in my life. My father had just passed away - very suddenly - which in-turn prompted me to leave my job. I was struggling with every kind of relationship (family, friends romantic) and everything just seemed grey and grim. I was, for the first time in my life, in a rut I could not seem to get myself out of. I felt so alone and couldn't seem to shake the fog that was following me around. I am definitely a future focused person which results in bouts of anxiety that I need to manage through meditation and other present-moments activities like yoga. This was probably my first experience of depression. Both anxiety and depression are emotional roller-coasters in different and complex ways and differ from person to person.
I decided to seek help in the form of a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) therapist who specifically deal with people who are - for whatever reason - suffering from some sort of anxiety problems. It was evident why I was both depressed and anxious... Father passing, no job, relationships in turmoil there was no issue understanding the cause but the solution was what I needed help with. This is where the discussion of a gratitude journal crept in. My therapist was keen to get me to research into this and start practicing an attitude of gratitude. At that time I struggled to come up with three things I was grateful for which when I look back now is crazy as I had so many remarkable things to be thankful for in my life - I just couldn't see it!
I was advised to purchase a journal, title it "Gratitude Journal" and start listing 5 things I was grateful for every morning and evening. Long term change takes time and is a culmination of small daily habits practiced consistently. After 10 days of being consistent I started feeling slightly better and my negative outlook started to shift to a more positive one. Six months later I had four notebooks full to the brim with everything that I felt grateful for (which was a lot) and I was feeling a hell of a lot better. A year later I was realizing what a gift life is. How every breath is something to be thankful for and how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to have my health, running water, clothes, friends, family, a home etc.... to name a few.
Practicing gratitude daily brought balance to those parts of me that were attached to suffering. Gratitude changed my attitude and helped me to stop feeling victimized by life. Most importantly gratitude made me happier. I realized all the beauty that was in my life and how blessed I was. It is important to honor those times in life when you are suffering from grief, sadness etc.. but lingering in those emotions for to long can be dangerous. Gratitude is an expression of love. The more I practiced and attitude of gratitude the more love and opportunity came to me. It shifted my whole outlook on life.
Count Your Blessings;
After two years of gratitude journaling I needed a shift in the way I was doing things and adopted a new approach which has worked incredibly for me ever since. The below is a very focused method of Journaling and one I started to feel the benefits of straight-away.
Tim Ferris recommends taking 5 minutes in the morning and evening and answering the below questions or statements;
To be answered in the morning;
I am grateful for….. 1. ____________ 2. _________ 3. _____________
What would make today great? 1. _________ 2.____________ 3. _____________
Daily Affirmations. I am…….. 1. __________ 2. ______________ 3._____________
To be filled in at night;
3 Amazing things that happened today…… 1. _________ 2.__________3.________
How could I have made today better? 1._________ 2.___________ 3.__________
Tim recommends considering four different categories when writing down your gratitude’s otherwise (like I did) you will go on auto-pilot always repeating the same gratitude’s day-in, day-out (my health, my family etc…)
An old relationship that really helped you, or that you valued highly.
An opportunity you have today. Perhaps that’s just an opportunity to call your parents, go to work, exercize etc…..
Something great that happened yesterday (experienced or witnessed)
Something within sight! This is a Tony Robbins recommendation. It shouldn’t be all career and abstract items. Balance it out with something from nature, a beautiful cloud etc…
(Tim Ferris, Tools of Titans)
This is a simple and effective approach that will take no more than 5 mins everyday!
“Whatever we are waiting for— peace of mind, contentment, grace . . . it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful
heart” (Breathnach, 1996).
Gratitude is a way to step off the hedonic treadmill, almost forcing you to look at and appreciate what you have right now instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will one day make you happy. Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack. As an old saying goes,
“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’ll get.”