It’s been said that gratitude is one of the great keys to happiness; that by becoming consciously grateful, we can foster a more positive energy. One which not only promotes our immune system but also breeds generosity, optimism and allows us to feel more connected to ourselves and others.
To me, this makes perfect sense. We live in a world where so many people lust after the concept of having more, needing more ‘stuff’ to make them happy; more money, power, status and material possessions – but how can this drive for constantly wanting more and never being satisfied with what we have leave us with anything other than negative and often toxic emotions?
Research shows that those who practice gratitude are more alert, optimistic and happy. The development of a grateful attitude can have long lasting effects on the brain and if practised daily, can promote feelings of wellbeing beyond those achieved with anti-depressant medication alone.
'Choosing to be grateful is an outlook, a perspective. It’s more than just feeling grateful.'
Gratitude is a way of focusing the mind on something positive and has been said to be of real benefit to those who are struggling with their mental health. During the difficult times we find ourselves in today, many people all over the world are struggling to feel anything other than anxious about the uncertainty of life and are grappling with despair, depression and the stresses that come with having our lives turned upside down. For some, the Covid-19 lockdown has had a profoundly negative effect on their lives, with many struggling to feed their families or being able to afford much needed medication. I am not for one minute down-playing the harsh realities for many people across the world and I realise that some people find themselves in very dire circumstances.
But the development of a grateful mindset can be used as a coping mechanism; retraining our brains to promote the savouring of positive emotions and helps us to focus on what we do have, rather than what we don’t. It may not solve all of our problems, but like many forms of therapy, is a tool on which we can lean to take some control back over situations which may feel very much out of our control.
Choosing to be grateful is an outlook, a perspective. It’s more than just feeling grateful. Being grateful is a way of life. Living a grateful life enables us to be more resilient during the hard times; and whilst it doesn’t give us a psychological immunity to life’s losses and gains, it does provide a crash mat to soften the blow and enables us to remain grounded in the impermanence of life. If we can adopt a positive grateful attitude, we can develop our resilience which can only help us in times of personal crisis.
How do we develop our practice of gratitude?
The practice of gratitude starts within; like a muscle that needs to be pumped, we need to put in some time and effort It isn’t an attitude that comes naturally to some. Like most practises, it needs to be fostered and nurtured. Meditation apps can help assist us in developing a daily ritual and there’s many to be found online.
But there are ways we can start this practice very simply and below is a list of five simple ideas for those wishing to get started.
5 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude
1. Start with the small things. Being grateful just for being alive and being able to breathe in and out is a brilliant reminder that you’re already better off than so many others.
2. Make a list before going to sleep at night of five things you feel truly grateful for. This will not only allow you to go to sleep feeling more positive but if you look at the list when you wake up first thing in the morning, you’ll begin your day feeling more positive and mindful of all the things you have.
3. Go for a walk and look for the beauty in nature around you. Notice the colours, the smells and sounds. This can help you to feel more connected with the world and ground you in the here and now.
4. Write a letter to someone you are grateful for. Research has shown that you don’t even if have to give the letter to them to feel the benefits of this. Simply writing it down has been shown to have positive effects on the brain. Of course, you can give them the letter too – it can never be a bad thing to tell someone why you are grateful for having them in your life!
5. Practice often. Through consistency we are able to train our brains into new habits and mindsets. Focus your thoughts each day on things or people you are grateful for and this will soon become second nature.
We are living in strange unprecedented times, a term I keep hearing again and again. People are facing challenges like never before and it’s important when it feels like so much is out of our control that we return to what we are in control of. That is, ourselves; our thoughts; our feelings and our reactions. Letting go of the need to feel in control of everything is powerful; accepting that we can only truly control ourselves is where freedom lies. Any way that we can harness this strength is worth it; and if in the process we remind ourselves of all the things we have to be grateful for, then that’s a win too.
If we spend this time on ourselves learning to feel real honest, genuine gratitude for all that we have, we develop resilience and strength that will see us through the hard times.
'Resilience is like tending a garden. It won’t stop the garden from weathering a storm but if you tend to it regularly, it will recover much more quickly'
So what is resilience and why is it important?
Developing resilience is a vital part of our mental wellbeing ‘tool kit’. Resilience is defined as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.’ In essence it means being able to adapt and bounce back when something difficult happens in our lives.
It is important for several reasons; it enables us to develop mechanisms for protection; it helps us to maintain balance and protects us from developing mental health problems. As my counsellor said to me; resilience is like tending a garden. It won’t stop the garden from weathering a storm but if you tend to it regularly, it will recover much more quickly and there will be less damage with every storm. We can’t stop things from going wrong in our lives, but we can train our minds to respond to things in a more positive and proactive way.
If living a grateful life begets resilience then taking this step and having this mindset can only be a positive thing. We cannot stop the trials and tribulations of life; but with deeper resilience we can cushion the blow. As Nelson Mandela famously said:
‘Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’
Read more from Janine in her book, Embracing life in lockdown.
Janine is a trainee person-centred counsellor, in the final stages of her level 4 diploma. She came to the world of counselling through her own personal experience of mental health issues, following the breakdown of her marriage and subsequent divorce. Counselling and the ability to empower others struck a chord with her and she has completely changed her path in life to follow her dream of helping others. She loves music, the arts and is a keen writer. She has written a book to help people with anxiety related to the lockdowns that we are experiencing. She also is a keen blogger. Get in touch with Janine via Twitter, Facebook