An attitude of gratitude has become a common catch phrase. Oprah speaks at length about the benefits of a daily gratitude practice, and there is research backing the benefits. According to Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson (2005)*, a regular practice of gratitude reduces stress, improves sleep quality, and increases emotional awareness. It has also been directly correlated to increased vitality, energy, and motivation. Want to learn more? There are many wonderful books available that explain the benefits of a gratitude practice and how it works.
There is always something to be grateful for, even in our darkest moments. Have you met people that seem to have survived hardship, grief, and trauma, and yet, they are also incredibly positive, calm, joyful, and grateful in their daily lives? I have, and I think . . . “Wow, what an inspiration! And how can I be more like that?” In my years as a mental health clinician, my observation is that those types of people are ALWAYS able to find something to be grateful for; even the smallest things are experienced as blessings. I also find that these types of people focus more of their attention on the positive experiences and less attention on the negative. In fact, they are able to twist almost any negative experience into something positive, often turning a difficulty into a learning experience, albeit a tough one.
I also believe that we attract TO us more of what we focus our attention on. Have you ever noticed that when your day starts with an irritation and you think, “Oh, this is going to be a bad day; I can tell already,” that you then experience one mishap after another, and as the day progresses, your frustrations increase? I totally have! And I know when I have been successful in catching myself at that first negative thought and immediately shifting my perspective--using humor, an equally powerful positive thought, or becoming grateful for something--I was able to stop the kaleidoscope of negative experiences. Give it a try: next time your day starts off with an irritation, immediately name three things you are grateful for, or think of something funny. Redirect your thoughts, just like you would a toddler.
In life, so much is a matter of perspective. Two people can experience the exact same thing. While one person becomes angry and enveloped in negative emotions that last several hours, the other can view the experience as a frustration that can easily be overcome. They think to themselves, “What can I learn from this? How can this experience teach me something valuable?” Even though the second person may not like the experience, they are able to view it from a distance and not be taken over by the frustration and angst triggered by the event.
Our thoughts are responsible for our emotions. That puts you in the driver's seat. I am not saying to deny how you feel; fear, anger, and sadness are all normal emotions we experience throughout our lives. I am saying that your thoughts have the ability to control the power and influence your emotions have over you. How we respond to our emotions influences the ways in which we interact with the world and everyone around us. A simple first step is a daily practice of gratitude.
A daily gratitude practice is a great life hack because it’s super easy, isn’t time consuming, and has tremendous benefits. Find the strategy that works best for you, be consistent, and stick with it for a few months.
Change can be a slow and subtle process. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Keep a daily gratitude journal – Write down three to five things every day that you are grateful for. This may become such a habit that you find yourself voicing gratitude throughout the day for various things like a great parking spot, the nice cashier, the rain starting as soon as you completed your run, relaxing doggie snores, etc….
Wake up each morning and go to bed each night by giving thanks for at least one thing that day.
Send thank you cards to people - the old-fashioned way with a physical card, envelope, and post office.
Tell people with whom you interact that they are appreciated; say, “Thank you!”
Send emails of appreciation to your co-workers, employees, family, and friends.
As you increase your expressions of gratitude, you will likely find yourself less stressed, frustrated, and angry, and that will have a positive impact on those around you. This is doing your part to raise the vibration of the planet, one person at a time. And I say, “THANK YOU for doing your part!”
* Seligman, M.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.