“Gratitude opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world. By making gratitude a daily prayer: Thank you, life; Thank you, life I learned to trust in life again. I felt lovable again, and I began to see that life really does love me”
From Life Loves You by Louise Hay and Robert Holden
It came to me this week that some phrases get used so much that they start to lose their meaning. At the time I was doing an exercise about gratitude, and realised that I’d got into the habit of tuning out when I heard “attitude of gratitude” and “gratitude journal”.
You might think that’s a bit of a confession for a positivity coach, but I appreciate experiences like that because they get me thinking! They get me to think about what WOULD get me tuned in to really engaging actively in gratitude?
So, as I completed the exercise (which I really enjoyed by the way, so I wanted to give it to you too - simply print this out and create your own wonderful gratitude poster!) I felt I went deeply into my gratitude space. And what I noticed in that space was that I felt GOOD. Physically. Energetically. Emotionally. I felt light. I felt happy. I felt more connected with my life, and accepting of what’s going on in it. I felt myself letting go of frustrations with other people. More than that, I felt myself really valuing them. I felt myself appreciating lots of little, mundane things because they make my life easier.
No surprise really. Gratitude is an emotion. Emotions are simply one of our feedback mechanisms. What gratitude communicates to our subconscious is ‘Everything is going well’. The result: we feel safe. So our body relaxes. Our mind relaxes. Our gut relaxes. Our whole BEING relaxes and there’s an internal “Phew! Great. Everything is good!”
So, gratitude (the practice) helps us get in touch with Gratitude (the emotion). When we get experience the emotion of gratitude it feels good because (consciously or unconsciously) we have shifted focus to a perspective of acknowledging that life isn’t out to get us. Gratitude offers us the opportunity to remember that life loves us and is trustworthy. It helps us realise that even our tough experiences can be appreciated for the change and growth they offer us.
There’s some really simple illustrations of a gratitude practice in Kevin Harrell’s book An Attitude of Gratitude: 21 Life Lessons . For example, if he gets stuck in an airport for two extra hours, instead of fuming about the delay he gets something to eat, calls his grandmother and talks to another passenger. Basic, but effective huh?
I also wondered: if I’m not practicing gratitude what am I doing? Am I inadvertently being ungrateful? If I’m not being grateful then by default am I choosing negativity, hopelessness and misery where I could be choosing to be happy?
Puts me in mind of that Law of Attraction expression “Where attention goes, energy flows”.
I’ve realised why practicing an attitude of gratitude and gratitude journaling felt a bit like ‘going through the motions’ to me. What I’m after is the emotion - the STATE of gratitude. To embody it. And funnily enough, that’s what the dictionary says. Gratitude is defined as the state of being grateful and thankful.
And I know that gratitude is a habit that (for me included) needs to be fostered and nurtured before it becomes part of our state. Thus the value of gratitude attitudes, journals and exercises! That’s why I really enjoyed the activity I did because it enhanced my gratitude state – it started in my mind and took it right down into my body.
For those who love a little science, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (University of Miami) have been busy guys carrying out studies on the effects of gratitude. No surprise really that they proved that it contributes powerfully to human health, happiness, and social connection.
They showed that people who kept a gratitude journal for 10 weeks felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than participants who didn’t. The journallers reported fewer health complaints and spent more time exercising than control participants did. They experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than non-journallers and reported feeling more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, excited, determined, and strong.
The gratitude group also reported getting more hours of sleep each night, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. Wow!
And here are some ideas for enhancing your feeling of gratefulness that are a bit different to what you might have come across before:
1. Play the 3 good things game: remember 3 things things that were positive in your day
2. Write a thankyou letter: express your thanks to someone you haven’t really expressed your appreciation to, and deliver the letter in person.
3. Ramp up your people appreciation: imagine your life without a loved one
4. Focus on intentions behind other’s actions: When something good happens to you, become aware that someone tried on purpose to bring that goodness into your life, maybe even at a cost to themselves
5. Teach gratitude to your kids: model it by doing it in front of them!
6. Try a “Savour” walk: walk slowly and really look at the environment. Each time your eye falls on something consciously register what you’ve seen and notice what pleasurable or admirable quality it has.
Next time I’m a bit ho-hum about gratitude exercises I’m remembering that they’re not just a gimmick! They are a TOOL. They get me feeling good.
And note to self: Gratitude’s simplest expression is “thank you”.