If you’ve been reading any self development, productivity or psychology blogs recently, you’ll have seen a lot of talk about the benefits of practising gratitude.
So what’s gratitude all about?
Well, let’s start by taking a look at what gratitude actually means before we learn how to be more grateful.
According to Psychology Today:
‘Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to a consumer-oriented emphasis on what one wants or needs.*’
So it’s about appreciation. Realising what we have and feeling good about it. Specifically appreciation for all of the great things we have in our lives right now, rather than a focus on what we want or need in the future.
Stop what you’re doing right now. Take a deep breath. And have a think about what you appreciate in your life.
It can be anything from your best mate to the fact you keep going to the gym to something really abstract, like nature.
How does that feel? Well, if it feels easy that’s great news. If it feels difficult, you’re not alone! It seems that (and yes, I could be massively generalising here) we’re a really sulky nation of complainers and grass-is-always-greeners. So to many of us counting our blessings seems so wrong, alien and a little frivolous. But think about that for a minute. The idea of thinking about the good things in our lives, celebrating the awesomeness and cultivating gratitude feels wrong. Isn’t THAT attitude more weird?
How can we ever expect to feel whole, happy and look forward to the future if the thought of stopping, taking stock and getting grateful just sounds so icky?
*Psychology Today points out that the term has gained attention recently because it’s been referred to many times in relation to positive psychology. As an aside, if you’re interested in self development, then I’d highly recommend you read about positive psychology, but it’s basically the idea that we shouldn’t just focus on making sad people mediocre, we should focus on making people a bit happy even happier, too.
So how do you begin?
There isn’t a specific process to getting all grateful, but many people suggest having some good quality ‘me’ time, pausing from whatever it is you’re doing and taking some deep breaths is a great way to start and really take stock of where you’re at in this moment. You could then meditate about what you feel grateful about, allowing the thoughts to come and go with ease, or if that seems a bit too woo-woo for you, just stop and think about what you’re grateful for instead.
You can start by listing really non-specific things, like ‘family’ or ‘trees’. But you’ll get the most benefit if you really delve into each point and think about how it makes you feel too. So instead of thinking ‘my sister’ you could think ‘the fact my sister is so supportive when I’m in trouble.’ See the difference?
Many people pick a time of day or specific activity when they do this, maybe first thing in the morning, on the way to work or while you’re taking a bath on a night. Others recommend writing lists of things that you appreciate and keeping them, so when you feel down or out of control you can refer back to them. I’ve seen many people start gratitude boxes or jars. It’s the same idea as those who recommend writing everything down, but by occupying a physical space – like a massive mason jar – the idea is you can literally see how abundant your life is – like an overflowing jar! Look at all of the awesome gratitude jars on Pinterest right now.
If all of that still doesn’t make much sense to you, then employ some outside help. If your issue is that you like the idea but would never commit to it, download Little Bit (my favourite habit-forming app) and set daily reminders to think about what you’re grateful for. Does it all just sound a bit boring? Well cool new start-up Gramr wants to put the twee fun back into being grateful with its quirky letter writing concept, which smashed its Kickstarter goal five-fold! If the thought of sitting alone with your thoughts fills you with dread, then one of my favourite meditation apps, Buddhify, has a number of short practices specifically for looking back at your day and thinking about what you appreciate the most over the past 24 hours. Lack structure and motivation? This Gratitude Journal app will do everything for you – prompting you to fill in what you’re grateful for and storing all your past lists for you too. If you like old school pen and paper list-making then indulge in a new notebook from Paperchase that fills you with energy – if you like glitter go for the loudest, craziest option. If you’re looking for a bit more serenity in your life go for pastel patterns. It doesn’t really matter where you write your lists, you just need to fill good about the process.
My biggest tips would be:
1. Just try it. Seriously. We’re all so good at coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn’t take care of our bodies and minds. I’m telling you now that experts believe this has a hugely positive impact on our wellbeing. So why not give it a go?
2. Relieve the pressure. One of the main reasons we tend to give up on good habits is because we fail once and assume we’re rubbish. Or don’t have time to do something fully so assume we’re rubbish. Relieve any pressure. Try it when you remember. If you forget, who cares! Just pick it up again when you remember you’ve forgotten.
And how will it benefit me?
So you’ve got a better idea of what gratitude is and how to feel more grateful for what you have. But what’s the point?
There have been numerous studies on the subject of gratitude and how it effects us all – and I imagine there’ll be loads more throughout 2015. The Counting Blessings versus Burdens (from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003) paper is one that’s cited time and time again, as it shows a direct correlation between counting blessings, feeling grateful and an increased sense of well-being.
One of the main reasons it has such a positive effect seems to be because many of us feel down due to the fact we feel a sense of lack in our lives. As if there are so many things we need to get or buy or achieve to feel truly happy. Practising gratitude is a great way to smash through this feeling of lack into one of abundance. And a feeling of abundance can have many emotional benefits, leaving you feeling happier and more compassionate. But it can also have physical side effects too, calming your breathing and reducing your blood pressure.
Similarly, many of those who feel depressed or anxious are actually recycling old beliefs and delusions that are fictitious. Practising gratitude may seem a bit silly and airy-fairy, but it’s actually a process in getting more real rather than less. By realising what you actually have and thinking about that rather than dwelling on past pain or dwelling on unrealistic delusions, you’re likely to become more mindful and see the silver lining rather than the black cloud.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on gratitude. Have you started listing what you appreciate? How does it make you feel? Or does the whole process just seem like a waste of time? Meet me in the comments below…
Image via Flickr Creative Commons.