“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful” – David Steindl-Rast
Replenish mind & soul with the power of gratitude…
For me clicking my Instagram App was akin to falling down a heavily filtered rabbit hole of pretty breakfast bowls and #fitnessgoalsphysiques that led straight to a pit of murky comparison quicksand. With every image that passed I became more and more convinced that I wasn’t enough and that to be happy I had to have a superfood-filled diet, full passport, flawless body, successful website and #girlcrush worthy wardrobe. Without these things my only option was to be a misery guts.
On a typical commute home from work, I realised I’d been spending so much time obsessing over what I didn’t have, that I was completely blind to the wonderful things I already had. So I paused amidst the traffic to consider all that I already was and all that I already had in my life. After just a few seconds, feelings of bliss & contentment started to weave their way over, around & through my bad mood, my frown started to fade and I started feeling really good. I knew I was on to something!
Intrigued, I decided to do some research. Here’s what I discovered…
Since ancient times, philosophers and sages from spiritual traditions from across the globe have sung gratitude’s praises. Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast pointed out “it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful”. In the 17th century, one of the earliest fans of gratitude, Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza, suggested that for more joy and meaning in life we should ask ourselves the following three questions every day for a month,
- Who or what inspired me today?
- What brought me happiness today?
- What brought me comfort and deep peace today?
Fast forward a few centuries and a university funded comparative experiment found that a group who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis demonstrated stronger immune systems, higher levels of positive emotions and more optimism than those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons and McCullough, 2003).
They also reported exercising more regularly, and feeling more helpful, alert and generally happier with their lives than the other groups. Another study found that those who felt valued & acknowledged by their partner were happier and more committed in their marriages and less likely to have thoughts about divorce.
Clearly gratitude had a lot going for it! Armed with the research above, nothing to lose, potentially a whole lot to gain, and a desire to feel better, I decided to set myself a One Week Gratitude Challenge.
By day two I started to realise the day to day activities in my life were actually quite pleasant. I noticed that I had a huge amount to be thankful for. The more I looked for things to be grateful for, the more of them I found. My practice became one of acknowledging all that was already enough in my life. I became more mindful of the good things around me and generally felt happier when I made a point of recognising the beautiful sights, smells and sounds that surrounds us all.
I’ve outlined my gratitude practice below and invite you to give it a go too! You’ve only got good things to gain!
The Gratitude Experiment
Day One: Just before bed whip out your journal or a piece of paper. Take a few moments to consciously focus on the things in your life you’re grateful for, big, small or neutral. Then list them all down until you can’t possibly think of any more or until you have a feeling of satisfaction. You could even set a timer (say 2 or 5 minutes) and write until the timer ends. Get really specific with your list, instead of writing “I am grateful or my partner” write “I am grateful that my partner gave me a shoulder rub yesterday when i was feeling unwell” or “I am grateful for the laughs i share with Rachel”. You can be grateful for the warm blankets on your bed, for your memories, for your ability to see, feel, hear or taste – for your health, even if it isn’t perfect.
Day Two: Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour through the day. Each time it goes off, pause and think of something that happened within the last hour that you are grateful for. Make sure you actually set the alarms, it’s easy to forget without them! The things can be very simple and mundane.
Day Three: It doesn’t matter what you express gratitude toward, you still receive positive effects. Today, randomly and periodically express gratitude toward anything you come across – even a rock that you notice as you’re walking. Express gratitude toward it even though it’s just a rock. Do this as much as you can throughout the day, but without being mechanical or forcing yourself.
Day Four: Gratitude expert, Robert Emmons, suggested that focusing on people we’re thankful for rather than possessions increases the feel good factor. Make a list of three people who have had an impact on your life and write down why you’re lucky to have them.
Day Five: Pick one of the people above and write a letter expressing your gratitude for all they have done for you and why you appreciate them. Bonus points for actually giving them the letter!
Day Six: Something a little different. Be grateful for your struggles. Find one challenge of difficulty in your life (past or present) and write down why you’re grateful for it, what lessons have you learnt from it, what experience did you gain, how has it helped shape you as a person?
Day Seven: Extend gratitude toward the most important person of them all, yourself! List the qualities within yourself that you’re glad you have. Write and write until you can’t possibly think of anymore.
After you’ve completed day seven, sit down and think or write a little debrief on the past 7 days and your gratitude experiment. Think about how you felt before starting and after. Are there any differences? Have you noticed a shift? Has anyone else noticed a shift in you? Have you felt more grateful or noticed more things to be grateful for?