Every transformation, every positive change, every recovery all begins with gratitude. It is difficult to move into happiness if you cannot be thankful for things or people in your life. It’s a simple concept, but not always easy. Sometimes you are, metaphorically, so deep in a dark hole that there is almost no light. You feel like everything and everyone is against you, or that you can’t do anything right. The first step of the long and hard climb out of that hole is often gratitude; but, that is the hardest thing to find in that moment.
There’s a reason that examples of gratitude practices span history and most cultural and religious societies. Why do you think caregivers spend so much time teaching their children to say, “Thank you.” It has evolved as just being kind or something we do. There are deeper origins here in evolution and determining your community and building security. All I know is when something severe happens and someone expresses true thanks – it can be very moving. Not only does gratitude increase social acceptance and improve all kinds of relationships, it also improves your health and wellbeing.
Practicing gratitude in your everyday life has been associated with an increase in happiness, life satisfaction, less depression and more resiliency following a traumatic event. It has even shown better physical health. A study done in 1995 shows that when participants felt appreciation, their heart rate variability (a key indicator of good health) improved.1 Another study3 showed that heart failure patients who kept a gratitude journal for 8 weeks had reduced signs of cellular inflammation. In another study2, it was found that people who often practice gratitude have more gray matter in the area of the brain that is linked to interpreting other people’s intentions. These are but a few studies I found not to mention all the anecdotal evidence in improving people’s overall well-being.
A gratitude practice shouldn’t be complicated and it doesn’t have to rival any philosophical theories. You just have to be grateful for something. Take time every day to be grateful.
Some methods that are used are:
Each day or week (you set the frequency) you would write out 3 things you are grateful for and what the cause of those things were.
An example might be: I am grateful for my thoughtful husband. He knew I was having a hard day and that I would appreciate some time in a bubble bath with a good book so he poured me a bath and took the kids out for ice cream while I luxuriated.
Reframe the Bad
This can be in real-time as it happens, or used as part of the gratitude journal as one or more of the items or perhaps as part of meditation or rumination. Stop and think of something negative that happened, and see how you could reframe it to be a positive.
For example: Today I was late for work because traffic was so slow. Reframe – I didn’t get a speeding ticket.
This is where you would think of a person for whom you are grateful. Perhaps someone you admire, love or even dislike but taught you a lesson. You would then either write them a note to thank them. This note can then be delivered to them by mail, email, text, phone, or even in-person. This is a much more vulnerable practice but has much greater rewards for you and the person you are thanking. Caution: you can only control yourself and not the actions/reactions of others. You are doing this for yourself, there are to be no expectations of anything (including positive/negative emotions) from the other person. If you manage your expectations, no matter how they react, you will feel great.
This practice is for those people who are religious or spiritual. Spend a few moments each day asking your higher power, source, or the universe to bless the people involved in the things you are grateful for. Send them positive energy and abundance or the infinite love of your higher power. This can be extra powerful when you can bless people whom treated your wrong. They can be blessed for teaching you a specific lesson, perhaps showing you their true colours so you don’t invest any more time into this relationship, or even enlightening you in some way.
Gratitude prompts can be found all over the internet or in various self-help books. Choose one, or a few and spend some time in introspect for that prompt. They can be journaled about, discussed, meditated on, or simply pondered. There are a few in my free Gratitude Prompt Workbook which can be found at the following website https://promptedcollective.com/gratitude-prompts/
Make It Yours
You don’t have to use any of the above practices, perhaps you simply recognize one thing each day. Say thank you to the person who held the door open for you. Wave at the person who stopped to let you cross at the crosswalk. Whatever you decide to do, however often, keep that promise to yourself. You will find that by doing this regularly, it will get easier and soon you’ll be finding things all day. By keeping that promise, you are also training your brain that you can do new and hard things. That you can trust yourself… and this could lead to a whole new you.