Have you noticed how so many of us live with a mindset that tells us “I’ll be happy when I’m… thinner/have a job/in a relationship/earning more (whatever ‘it’ is for you)”?
Maybe we really will be happy then. Maybe not.
The harsh reality is, if we’ve become so focused on the darkness in life, and not so good at joyfully noticing the positives, that thinking is likely to stay with us no matter how much we achieve. We’ll just keep on perceiving that we don’t have enough, do enough and aren’t enough forever more… unless we decide to change our focus.
I’ll be the first to admit, I was a total pro at this. I was stuck in a cycle of complaining, wanting more and talking about “knowing my bad luck”. If someone were to offer me a positive outlook I could skilfully turn it into a negative with a quick ‘Yeah but…’ There was a time in my life when I couldn’t tell you one thing I was grateful for. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t anything positive happening in my life. I was drowning in the darkness.
Thankfully, over the last eight years, I’ve been learning more and more about how our minds work, increasing my own self-awareness and I’ve been able to make positive changes that have resulted in a more calm, accepting and confident me. In reality, my life has both as much darkness and light as it did back then. Life hasn’t become easier, my thinking has.
Here’s the thing. If you’re sat on the beach with your back to the sea, facing a crowd of mostly noisy holiday-makers, you might notice people shouting or littering, but you’re not going to see the beautiful, calm sea glittering in the sunshine, that’s oh so close to you if only you’d look around. It’s highly likely that one view is going to evoke a sense of serenity and peace within you, altering your perspective as #BlueMind does, while the other view could be a trigger for stress and frustration as you zoom into the things that displease you. It’s entirely up to you which way you look.
That’s not to say we should ignore the negatives in life, but what if we bathed in the good stuff so we are in a better mental and emotional space for problem-solving the tricky stuff? It’s helpful to look around the beach and remain aware of everything that’s going on -we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is perfect- but it’s really important for our wellbeing that this is well balanced with a healthy dose of appreciating the feel-good stuff around us too.
What does gratitude do for us?
The ability to appreciate aspects of your life is a proven coping strategy that’ll help you to overcome obstacles and buffer against stress. In fact, studies show that people who regularly practise grateful thinking are over 25% happier, experience lower levels of stress with increased health and better sleep. Practising gratitude can inhibit negative emotions, like anger and envy. It’s even been shown to reduce hopelessness in patients feeling suicidal by 88%!
It turns out, that gratitude is an action of happiness – something we need to do in order to reach that state of happiness and experience joy in everyday life.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is not about comparison. It’s not about saying “I have it better than other people, therefore I should be grateful” It’s not having a broken toilet and trying to trick yourself into feeling grateful by saying “well, at least I have a toilet; there are people across the world who don’t.”
Gratitude is about gently broadening your focus. It’s about recognising and appreciating the good in every day, as well as acknowledging the hurt and challenges. It is finding the joy in the ordinary moments in your life.
It could be listening to the birds in the garden; that personal quality that makes you YOU; the kindness of a stranger; the way your pet shows you they love you; the opportunity to help someone; the taste of good food; your own patience; the text from a friend who’s checking you’re ok when you’ve been a bit quiet; the peacefulness that washes over you when you’re sat by the sea; that thing you can do; the way your partner reassures you when you’re feeling anxious; the little buzz of a bee busily playing it’s part in the ecosystem; memories with friends and family; the feeling of the sand between your toes; lessons learned in life; or human beings’ innate ability to change.
You see, as tricky as it might feel in the beginning, there’s always someone or something you can feel grateful for. Even during life’s worst challenges, you can choose to place your focus on past blessings and future possibilities. Gratefulness is about creating and evoking an experience of joy and generosity in your life.
A joyful life is made up of joyful moments, gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration and faith
– Brene Brown
How to cultivate gratitude in your life
Brené Brown (a vulnerability and shame researcher whose wisdom we love here at QC) includes cultivating gratitude and joy in her 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living (‘wholehearted’ meaning living a life aligned with who you really, truly are from a place of worthiness with courage, compassion, connection and creativity).
Cultivating gratitude as a practise emerged as a key element in wholehearted living. And there are so many ways in which you can practise gratitude. In Brené’s work, she spoke to wholehearted people who used gratitude journals; daily gratitude meditation; letter writing; creating gratitude art; or simply stopping during a busy day to say aloud “I am grateful for…” It’s important to find what works well for you.
How to start Gratitude Journaling
1. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed.
2. Each night ask yourself:
- What are the blessings in your life today?
- Who or what can you show appreciation for?
- What positive aspects of your life could I appreciate?
- What positive aspects of myself could I appreciate?
3. Write three or more things you feel grateful about.
4. Take time to breathe in that sense of appreciation and savour those moments.
5. Revisit your Gratitude Journal first thing in the morning for a positive way to start your day
6. Ask yourself: How can I focus more on the simple joys in my life today?
Practising gratitude in this way means you’ll start to unconsciously begin thinking in this way and more easily recognising and appreciating the good in every day, even when times are tough. Try this for 2 weeks as a minimum and let us know how you feel!