This week I want to talk about gratitude. It has been a buzzword for a few years now but beyond that, it is something that, when practiced regularly, can change your life in incredible ways.
Last year I happened upon a book in the library called 365 Thank Yous written by lawyer John Kralik. It’s fair to say that John’s life was a mess when he had a small moment of clarity on a mountain trail and embarked on a mission to write a thank you note every day for a year. The book describes how that simple decision, and the act of writing the notes, changed John’s life in ways he couldn’t have imagined.
It’s a common suggestion these days to keep a gratitude journal, making a list each day of things you are thankful for. In doing this, we are forced to recognise things in our life that we may take for granted, opening the door to lower stress levels, higher life satisfaction and a greater sense of calm. When we focus on what we have over what we lack we can clear out negative emotions like entitlement, selfishness, pessimism and despair and replace them with appreciation, optimism, satisfaction and happiness.
Acknowledging and being thankful for the many blessings we already have opens us up to receiving more. After all, as John realised in his pivotal moment on the mountain “until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want”. In other words, if you’re not happy with what you have now, what makes you think you’d be happy with more? If we are always chasing the elusive “next thing” we can never fully enjoy what life has already given us.
In first world countries it seems almost assumed that a “good life” means setting and achieving goals, amassing a fortune and pursuing the trappings of financial success. Now, if these are your aspirations there is no harm in that, unless you are waiting for any or all of those things to eventuate before you can be happy or appreciate your good fortune. It’s tempting to think that things will be different when I have X or Y but that is not always the case. In fact, studies have shown that as people get wealthier they become less generous and compassionate than their less affluent counterparts – so things may not change in the ways you expect.
Being thankful also allows you to take more away from the misfortunes life sometimes affords us. For example, instead of being angry or resentful about a situation, we can move to a place where we are grateful for the growth opportunity it presents. This works well for me when I’m feeling impatient toward my 4 year old! I am reminded to switch my focus from what he might be doing (or not doing!) to what I can do differently to make the situation more positive for both of us. I can work on my patience and my parenting strategies, both of which are bringing me closer to the person I want to be. But, I can only do this when I first remember how incredibly lucky I am to be a parent and have him in my life.
What are you thankful for?
Make a list. As often as possible. Tell people. As often as possible. Endeavour to fill the air around you with gratitude. I promise you won’t regret it.
Here is a great list of 40 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude to get you started. 🙂