What is gratitude?
Some say it’s about having a positive mental attitude. Others say that it only works when life is good. I believe it’s a choice to see the blessings and joy around us, and the best in any negative situations we might find ourselves in.
Two years ago, I discovered exercise and healthy eating. Coach, fitness instructor and friend, Sindy Matthews of SMart Studio, Banbury showed me it’s possible to eat great ‘clean’ meals and take exercise, the thing I avoided most at school. I lost 3.5 stone, made new ‘fit-friends’ and was healthier than I’d ever been. I got married last summer and felt amazing on my wedding day. Oh yes, it was easy to feel gratitude. Everything was perfect.
And then the party stopped. Close friends experienced an awful tragedy, and I hurt my elbow swinging my kettlebell. Then came Christmas and a few extra pounds… It would have been easy to give up and go back to my old habits but instead I increased my clean eating, mindfully and mentally restarting my journey. I’m keeping a journal, walking more often, exercising gently once a week (with elbow strapped), and repeating positive affirmations: ‘I am positive’ and ‘my vibe is high’, with other like-minded souls. I’m grateful to have the choice to continue; doing the same things, differently!
Maybe this approach isn’t for everyone. But gratitude is what keeps me upbeat as well as grounded, and the facts are clear: research by the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert A. Emmons PhD found that the benefits of gratitude include feeling more upbeat and optimistic, improved sleep, better relationships in all parts of your life, and a more positive outlook. Letting go of pain and feeling more joy also come when you express gratitude.
So, how can you practise gratitude daily, especially when you’re feeling a bit flat, had a bad morning or worse? Here are some practical tips that work for me.
Writing down what you’re grateful for in a notebook can lift your spirits and keep depression at bay. Many people start or end each day with gratitude, noting 3-5 things and stating where their gratitude is focused. If you’re experiencing negative situations, flip them to state them as positive instead. For example, rather than, ‘My elbow stops me from attending the classes I want to’, I wrote this week, ‘I may have a sore elbow, but I have my health and can exercise by walking with colleagues at lunchtimes.’ If unsure, think about what you might be taking for granted: listening to your children’s laughter, seeing a beautiful sunset, hugging your partner.
Experts say that if you do this every day for a minimum of 21 days, you will become much happier.
Do something for others.
Rather than being grateful for our situation or material items, Robert A. Emmons believes that we should focus on people we are thankful for. If someone you know is where your gratitude is focused, tell them; thank them.
Maybe you could show your gratitude for your community by volunteering – an hour or two of your time once a month would really help a charity. Genuine gratitude comes through action. Much comes from giving – in giving, you receive.
If a moment in your day is particularly dark, then be present by focusing on the now, your breathing and be still. Meditation really does help us focus on gratitude.
Best thing, worst thing and what I’m grateful for.
This gratitude exercise is part of our family mealtime discussion, which friends enjoy too. What was the best thing about your day? What was the worst thing about your day? What are you grateful for today? It gets everyone around the table sharing about their day, really thinking and talking about where they should express their appreciation, without dwelling on any negative thoughts.
I add reminders to my phone that flash up every so often throughout the day, reminding me that I should be practising gratitude. I am grateful. I am blessed. I value me! When I am alone, I repeat these aloud. I am reminded by my phone when I leave for work and when I get there I am determined, to quote motivational author, Brendon Burchard, to ‘bring the joy’.
Like washing, these activities should be repeated daily. To begin with, it might feel strange, but you can start by ‘acting’ gratefully which will bring about feelings of gratitude; the emotions will come. This, along with flipping any negativity into positives will result, with practice, in feelings of joy and less negative thinking.
By practising gratitude often, you will transform, like many of my clients have, and might even change the world of others around you.