Lately, and in part due to the the upcoming American celebration of Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what it means to be grateful – the habit that practiced daily and with due diligence can have a most dramatic positive impact on your life. It also made me consider my own journey with it and its inherent challenges.
Gratefulness has been much talked about in recent years, and for good reason. There are countless health and mental health benefits attributed to practicing and adopting a grateful attitude on the daily. It can even change your brain.
I was first introduced to the concept during my University years, when I studied positive psychology. At the time, this was a relatively new field where, for once, as mental health counselors and clinicians, we started focusing on preventive measures and practices that cultivate and enhance wellness and well-being, and not only on diagnostic and treatment.
My own journey of consciously practicing gratitude started roughly 4 years ago when I discovered the The Five Minute Journal (I have spoken about it before, here and here). I am forever looking for simple and effective tools to streamline daily routines and make room for what matters most and to discover effective self-help tools. The Journal’s format and aim allowed for a simple and quick integration of gratitude as a daily routine and solidified the practice.
Purchase The Five Minute Journal here
As I have started to practice gratefulness, three things happened:
- I started becoming more aware of my thoughts throughout the day, especially the negative ones
- I started noticing more details around me that I hadn’t previously
- I started recognizing and discovering more and more things to be grateful for
To me, the most life changing characteristic of practicing gratitude is its cleansing and restoring ability.
It is incredibly powerful in shifting your bad moods and attitudes. It can stop you in your tracks and breakdown the patterns between your negative thoughts, feelings and your reactions. It acts as a buffer of sorts. The thing is, you cannot be angry, sad or depressed and feel grateful in the same time.
On top of that, it makes us more aware if what truly and naturally makes us happy and brings us joy: just because I am grateful for a specific something, it doesn’t mean that you might/should be as well. And this is key, I think.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, it protects our mental health.
We talk so much about diets, losing weight, being slim, being kind, being healthy, but not enough about having a daily cleansing mental routine, a mental hygiene of sorts, just as we do with our bodies.
And here is where gratefulness comes into play because it teaches us to recognize and acknowledge the good in spite of the challenges and tribulations intrinsic to our lives. It restores us to our truest self, a self that is open, more equanimous, less reactive and able to bounce back quickly from a bad mood.
Gratefulness, due to its nature and focus, helps us put things in perspective. If I were to give it my own definition, I would say that gratefulness is a thought backed by a strong positive feeling that shifts your mood and focus on what you do have.
But, in order for that to happen, you have to feel it. And this can be the stumbling block and the hardest part, especially at the very beginning when you start practicing it. As much as gratefulness can help, it does nothing for you if you don’t believe in it.
And If you are chronically angry or depressed, or just suffered a major loss, it can be extremely hard to feel grateful, for anything, especially if you aren’t in the habit of practicing it or are not naturally drawn to it. We all have a different genetic make-up and upbringing. Those that grew up in particularly harsh or critical environments and have internalized a deprecating dialogue, will probably have the hardest time with it at first.
Since practicing gratitude is so powerful (and free!), I really wanted to share this practice with you and provide you with some tools to help you.
If you are just starting out and have never deliberately practiced gratitude, or if there is some resistance to the concept, then exploring a little bit the issue and reflecting on the matter is the most important step.
In this regard I have created a FREE downloadable worksheet for you to use. It is a 3 page worksheet that hopefully will help you go a little bit deeper in exploring how you generally feel about gratitude, and what meaning and shape it has taken in your life.
You can download it for FREE here:
The worksheet specifically aims at starting your exploratory process with gratitude. It is not exhaustive but it will allow you to assess your history with it and may even help you become aware of possible stumbling blocks.
I have found that especially at the very beginning, when we start the process, we may think and write things down that we KNOW we should be grateful for, like our health, our jobs, our families, but we don’t necessarily feel grateful for them (not yet, anyway) and so, I bit of exploration and introspection is key.
THE FIVE MINUTE JOURNAL
To deepen and solidify the practice, keeping a gratitude journal is truly transformative. You can use any pen/paper and jot down 3 things you are grateful for each day but for a more structured and guided experience, The Five Minute Journal is a handy and elegant tool to use.
Read more about the benefits of free writing and journaling here
The journal was created by the team at Intelligent Change and is the easiest and most comprehensive tool to help you cultivate an attitude of gratitude and mindfulness throughout the day. It can be purchased here.
I have been using it for the past 4 years and given that it takes less than 5 minutes to complete each day, it simplifies the process and makes it so easy to start, and end, the day on a positive, grateful note.
How to use journaling to gain more clarity here
But, because feeling grateful is key in reaping the benefits, and just writing things down does not equate with us feeling grateful, you might find it hard at times, to continue with it; you might even give up, forget about it, pick it up again, and so on. That is okay. It’s part of the process. You won’t become instantly grateful all the time just as you can’t become physically fit. What you can do, is keep going back to it, again and again, until the new grateful dialogue becomes internalized. Again, writing it down and using a journal is incredibly helpful.
Then, focus on practicing being grateful throughout the day. Find any reason to be grateful for. The more you do this, the easier it will get. Most importantly, FEEL grateful. Start with the things you naturally are grateful for and keep adding to the list.
Just remember that it is a slow process and we have to commit to it just as we are committed to practicing and staying happy, regardless of our circumstances.
When I practice gratitude, I find my day filled with moments of wonder and joy, where even a breeze, a smile, a leaf fluttering in the wind, all the colors around me, make me instantly feel joyful and present. It is a silent but potent recognition of the transient world around us.
For more support and inspiration, the team at Intelligent Change curates amazing resources in their weekly newsletter aimed at helping you lead a more mindful and productive life so make sure to subscribe to it here.
If you are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful, restful and engaging holiday, filled with gratitude for the abundance and love in your life.
There will be no new post this Wednesday – I am taking some time off to enjoy the break and fix some backend issues (if you weren’t able to subscribe recently, I apologize and will soon have this fixed) but I will see you back here this upcoming Sunday!