Simple things you can do to change your life - really!
"If we're not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times" - Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Anyone been experiencing hard times recently??!
In this 10th anniversary year for The Gifts of Imperfection, I've been diving into this favourite book again recently. 'Cultivating Gratitude and Joy' is one of the guideposts I scored highest on in the new Wholehearted Inventory - and reading that chapter again was like a light in the dark (especially in the midst of this challenging year).
Brené (yes, we’re on a first name basis!) explains that gratitude is a practice, not an attitude. And that it is an avenue to joy. Gratitude is not one of my natural strengths - it falls surprisingly low in my character strengths profile (although come to think of it, a few years have gone by since I last did it and a whole lot has changed in my life since then!).
Perhaps because of that result, I committed to and have maintained a gratitude practice for more than two years now - simply writing three things I'm grateful for in a diary every night. I now realise it's been SO helpful as I've made changes in my life and coped with the lockdown-blues this year.
It HAS sustained me - not the practice itself necessarily, though that has been good - even if what I was grateful for that day was food, shelter and getting through the day! It's more the cumulative effect of the many months doing this one tiny action - taking just a few minutes to focus on the people, events and things I'm grateful for. My experience reflects the research into gratitude which has demonstrated that practiced regularly, it orients you toward the positive, boosts your wellbeing (including lowering stress and depression) and enhances social relationships.
Gratitude is also embedded in the Reiki Precepts, which I use regularly as a mantra and centering practice. "Be grateful and humble" is the one I've always deeply resonated with and I know will be a pillar of the rest of my life (hence Humble Phoenix!).
Cultivating thoughts, feelings and actions of gratitude help us to see outside of ourselves, connect with those around us and build our resilience. Christopher Peterson, one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, calls gratitude a ‘strength of the heart’ because it forges emotional bonds between people, and is “one of the character strengths most robustly associated with life satisfaction and all the good things that flow from it”. This is why is become a central aspect of field of positive psychology.
Similarly, Crompton and Hoffman describe gratitude as one of the ‘sacred emotions’ along with compassion, empathy, forgiveness and humility. Across time, cultures and faiths, it is recognised as an essential element of both our personal and social lives. Greek philosopher Cicero said -
“Gratitude is not only he greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others”.
Have I convinced you? Whether I have or I haven’t, please consider including a gratitude practice in your day. It doesn’t have to take long – it just an open mind and your commitment to it over time.
Like anything, your gratitude practice needs to be something that works for you! Here are some ideas for you to mull over…
Write a gratitude letter to someone you’ve never properly thanked – a parent, sibling, teacher, boss etc. Deliver it in person, or if that’s not possible mail it them
Send a text message – a simple “thank you for being in my life/for that thing you did for me” can be very powerful
Keep letters or notes of thanks you’ve received to pick you up when you’re having a rough day (you might keep them in a special box, an email folder, or pinned on a noticeboard)
Count your blessings – every day, write down three things you’re grateful for (my tip is to use a week-to-a-page diary and keep it by your bed!)
'Mental subtraction' – look at the things you’re grateful for, or ordinarily take for granted, and imagine you no longer have them; how does that make you feel?
Get creative - journal, write poetry, draw or make something that expresses your gratitude
Make it a team effort – set aside time daily or weekly to exchange gratitude with your significant other, housemates or family
Notice how often you say ‘thank you’ over the course of a day – maybe actively do it more!
Keep a gratitude jar – write down what you’re grateful for on slips of paper and pop them in the jar. If you need a boost, pick a few out and remind yourself about the good things in life!
In meditation, visualise good memories and thoughts
Aim to be mindful throughout your day – can you be fully present when you’re making coffee, eating meals, commuting, taking a shower and catching up with friends?
Reframe negative thoughts into more loving ones that express gratitude.
Which one or two things could you do over this next week; just as an experiment; just to see what happens?
Whatever practice you choose, be intentional with it; make it regular; make it a ritual. Some days will feel harder than others, but stay the course. Gratitude is the path to joy – and who doesn’t want that soul-deep feeling of joy in our lives?!
We don't know what next week holds, let alone next year and beyond, but it's these small choices day-by-day that will help us get through it stronger and prepare for whatever comes our way.
“Other people matter. But few of them are mind readers. Let them know that they matter. They might benefit. And you certainly will” – Christopher Peterson
Books referred to :
The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown (2010)
Pursuing the Good Life, Christopher Peterson (2013)
Positive Psychology, William C. Compton & Edward Hoffman (2013)
Photo credits on Unsplash:
Thank you Scrabble tiles: Priscilla Du Preez
Receiving flowers: Jeremy Cai
Smelling lavender: Elly Johnson