Taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re grateful for seems in itself a simple philosophy, though in practice is something most do not do enough in their lives. Gratitude is more than stating what you are thankful for, it’s a mindset that allows you to connect to the deeper meaning of your life, it’s a decision that we have to consciously make.
For me adopting an attitude of gratitude is something that I have been doing for about 5 years consistently. When I started doing this I’d take the time before I go to sleep each night to think back over my day and recognise 3 things I am grateful for, like a session with a client or a conversation with a friend.
Though getting into a regular routine of reflecting on your day, you start to harness a constant gratitude mindset and as it became more of a habit I began to appreciate the smaller things in life, like eating a good healthy meal or seeing a baby laughing that grabbed my attention during the day. I refined my process and not only did I do this at the end of my day, I would do it during the day also.
One of the biggest things that I noticed from doing this was that I wasn’t so drawn towards the more negative things that were happening in the world, I stopped reading newspapers and watching the news. I focused more on the positive and made sure that I incorporated inspiring videos from people like Robin Sharma and Gary Vaynerchuk into my day instead.
I believe that gratitude is one of the most important keys to finding and living a successful and fulfilling life. Knowing what you appreciate in life means knowing who we are, what matters to you and what makes each day worthwhile to you.
According to Research by Psychologist Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude, regularly writing in a journal your reflections on moments for which you are grateful can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing.
His research found;
- Gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol).
- Gratitude is related to a 10 percent improvement in sleep quality in patients with chronic pain, 76 percent of whom had insomnia, and 19 percent lower depression levels.
- Writing a letter of gratitude reduced feelings of hopelessness in 88 percent of suicidal inpatients and increased levels of optimism in 94 percent of them.
- Dietary fat intake is reduced by as much as 25 percent when people are keeping a gratitude journal.
So here’s a process that I do every few months. I take the time to go through each of the organs and systems in my body and thank them for supporting me in life. Now I’m not saying it’s the main contributor to why I’m in good health, though for the purpose of this article, let’s say that without gratitude I’d probably get sick more often!!
I believe that gratitude is an emotion, and like all emotions, it stimulates particular hormones in the brain such as the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin, and oxytocin, which is known as the ‘Love’ or ‘Cuddle’ hormone to be stimulated.
Actually, researchers at the University of New England and the University of Canberra in Australia showed that “higher levels of gratitude were associated with higher levels of personal wellbeing, greater life satisfaction, and lower levels of psychological distress.”
For me September 2016 was the start of a 12 month period that would challenge my attitude of gratitude
I had spent the previous 2 years building a new business alongside my current business and everything was moving in the right direction, and we were looking to launch in January this year. Then came the brick wall that I wasn’t expecting, both my businesses came to a halt, my financial well had dried up and there was nothing I could do that was going to change that situation overnight.
Here’s the thing. The power of gratitude had not been lost on me because I had been doing it consistently for years and knew the value of it. This time I was learning it at a deeper level. Gratitude is one of those things that you don’t really appreciate until life puts you in a position where being grateful is the thing that can make a significant difference in how you get through those tough periods in your life.
Going days and sometimes weeks without anything happening, with bills piling up, letting people down and not seeming to find a solution that would resolve things in the short term can be a time that can make or break you.
For me, I became stronger from it. By being grateful for the situation that I had created, I knew that nothing stays the same and that things would change at some point. I want to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, though being grateful is a choice, especially amongst the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives.
What this period taught me was about where I wasn’t giving gratitude and had to if I was going to change the situation.
According to Dr Robert Emmons, who I mentioned earlier, the feeling of gratitude involves two stages
First, comes the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life. In a state of gratitude, we say yes to life. We affirm that all in all, life is good, and has elements that make it not just worth living, but rich with texture and detail. The acknowledgement that we have received something gratifies us, both by its presence and by the effort the giver put into choosing it.
Second, gratitude is recognizing that some of the sources of this are other people goodness lies outside the self. At this stage, the object of gratitude is other-directed; one can be grateful to other people, to animals, and to the world, but not to oneself. At this stage, we recognize not only the goodness in our lives, but who is to thank for it, and who have made sacrifices so that we could be happy.
Now I want to add a third stage because that was the new level for me from going through the challenging 12 months. Yes, I had gratitude for what I was going through and gratitude for those who were supporting me through this time. Though I didn’t have gratitude towards myself for how I was dealing with the situation.
It was the gratitude for myself that was the difference, which kept me keep going when it was easier to give up. Acknowledging the value within ourselves and who we truly are can be challenging. Though taking the time to thank myself for just being me and for how I was dealing with the challenges that were coming my way had a profound effect at a deeper level for me. I didn’t beat myself up for being a failure. I was more peaceful and developed a deeper love and appreciation for myself, which in itself allowed me to find the solutions to resolving things.
There was a quote by American Transcendentalist poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson that really encapsulates this for me.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
So here are 7 simple ways that you can practice an attitude of gratitude?
- Keep a Gratitude journal and write down 3 things you are grateful for from your day
- Notice the beauty in nature and your surrounding each day
- Watch inspiring videos that will remind you of the good in the world.
- When you think a negative thought, try to see the positive side in the situation
- Be thankful when you learn something new.
- When times are good, notice and help others.
- Live mindfully, not worrying about the past or future.
Be the change you want to see in the world by making gratitude a natural part of each day.