The Attitude of Gratitude
Warning: This could help seriously improve your life and work
None of us are likely to say ‘no’ to feeling more happy I reckon.
How about working out more, improving our health and sleep?
Build our relationships stronger?
Being more focussed? Able to cope with stressful times?
How about dealing better with any anger, resentment, regret?
Thanksgiving is a great reminder of an important attitude in Mindfulness – Gratitude. We’re heading towards the end of the year and Thanksgiving traditions are a great place to start. In the US (November) and Canada (October) Thanksgiving is recorded from the 17th century and focussed on celebrating a good harvest and even a safe passage and landing from Europe – and in France and Germany there are earlier references to such celebrations and even I remember harvest festivals in school.
What these celebrations have in common are going through significant struggles and the sharing of good fortune, including sharing of harvest through the winter – and that carrying gratitude forwards is important.
There is a view that successfully facing and overcoming difficulties is best done with the Attitude of Gratitude. Why?
Gratitude helps us move beyond our emotional reactions to events (in Mindfulness terms, these are the principles of Acceptance and Letting-go). Finding the positives helps us learn positive lessons and move forwards:
- Physically, research shows we can’t be thankful and stressed at the same time – that helps us think and act more clearly and logically.
- It helps us keep motivated – we’re not attached to the difficulty, and we have identified strengths we can keep building on.
- We learn forgiveness by letting-go – of others, but importantly we are often our own worst critics and would do well to be kinder to ourselves.
Don’t just take my word for it – the benefits have been reviewed by Harvard and Forbes and many top business achievers state it is part of their routine. A quick internet search brings up loads of good research from psychology and psychiatric research. It is used by Alcoholics Anonymous (The Serenity Prayer is of course about accepting what we cannot change and recognising what we can) and in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as well as the Solution-Focus approach (a strong principle of mine – [identify and] ‘do more of what works’).
Thanksgiving and New Year
So at this Thanksgiving time we could be forgiven for thinking the world has turned upside down with lots to be anxious and worried about. That’s globally, in each of our countries and perhaps in our own lives. Even if we already have a positive outlook, we would want to make sure it stays that way wouldn’t we?
I ‘don’t do’ New Year Resolutions but I find naturally at around the time of autumn and Thanksgivings I do reflect and kind of ‘clear the ground’. This is the time of year I am most likely to start making changes which I hope to really make stick through the new year to come.
So here’s a few of things to try:
- At times of celebration (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year) really take a moment – with those around you if you’re celebrating with others – Really take a moment to stop, take a breath and share 3 things that you are grateful for.
- If you are sending gifts or cards, take a moment to add one thing you appreciate the other person for.
- As we move towards the holiday season, take time now to review your year, list things you are grateful for (try maybe a list of 50 things).
- Take a breath and review your more difficult times this year. Look for the nuggets of gratitude within them – what you did well, lessons learned, people who may have helped you, what helped give you strength.
- When you are ready, keep in mind those gratitudes, allow yourself to forgive and let go, ready to move forwards with renewed strength and motivation.
Hopefully you can begin to see that this Attitude of Gratitude really can help build happiness, health, focus and work output. Situations that raise strong emotions still happen of course, and our emotions are important and don’t disappear. But, instead of focussing on them we learn to focus more on what will help us achieve our goals. We can only focus on one thing at a time, right?
Like any practice, we know we have to keep at it to make it stick – by definition we only have habits (good or bad) when we keep doing them. If we really want to benefit through the year to come, we need to build our ‘Gratitude Muscle’.
So here’s a few of things to try:
- Make a regular practice, perhaps before we go to sleep, to notice 3 things we are grateful for in our day.
- Take the time, perhaps once a week, to stop a moment and really notice our food and think about all that brought that food to us and why we might be grateful for this. You can extend this to all sorts of things – perhaps the computer/tablet/phone you’re reading this on; when you’re using your car; in the supermarket. (This has a bonus for example of diverting our attention from the queue we’re in, frustrations at work and so on.)
- Maybe take a walk once a month and while you’re walking let your mind wander to all the things you might be grateful for.
- Take the time to say ‘thank you’ to someone, and if they’re not with you at least make a mental note. Perhaps you could give someone a thank you note or card once a month, and don’t forget to thank yourself!
- Remember at difficult times to take a breath, review, and find those nuggets of gratitude within the situation.
We have much to be grateful for. The more we practice, the more we notice. At summer camp one day we had a ‘Gratitude snack’ and got all the way from the food actually in our hands to how it got to us, then to how it was grown, then through to the big picture stuff of nature and the planet, and having our own lives to be able to appreciate it all … just from a snack! We finished the snack with big smiles and contentment – and all it took was taking a breath and stopping our busyness and paying attention.
Making it stick is the key, by building your ‘gratitude muscle’. I promise over time it will become a natural habit and you (and those around you) will feel all the better for it!
Feel free to leave a comment, and look out for my ‘Countdown to Christmas’. I am Grateful for being able to share and hope you find this useful.