I rarely feel moved to broadcast my views or personal experiences widely, but as I begin this year I want to share a small and simple discipline that has me filled with joyful positivity, excitement and anticipation for the year to come.
This is not a natural state for me, with my propensity to see the half-emptiness of the glass (chronically low Positive – The World, Resilience score!). Never more so than after returning from a sun-soaked Christmas in Australia to tube strikes and at least two months of cold, grey weather ahead. I am also pretty hopeless at sticking to any practice that requires much conscious effort, however much good it does me, so you can trust me when I say the impact is profound and the energy required is minuscule.
If you already spend the majority of your time conscious of how many blessings you have to count, good for you. You probably already have an unconscious habit of looking on the bright side and not sweating the small stuff. For those less fortunate who, like me, notice they pay a little more attention to what they don’t love about their life or situation than they would like, I’m advocating that you dedicate just 5-10 minutes per day this year to strengthening your gratitude muscle.
My inspiration to try this in 2017 came from a book one of my daughters gave me for Christmas called The Gratitude Diaries: How A Year Of Living Gratefully Changed My Life by journalist and writer Janice Kaplan (my daughter texted me to say how grateful she was that it only cost 99p on Kindle!). It’s an easily read and digested account of the author’s experiment with deliberately bringing more gratitude into her life for a year and the impact that had on her and those closest to her. Peppered with anecdotes, research findings and interviews with scientists and psychologists, it brings a range of perspectives on why the simple act of noticing how lucky we really are in the scheme of things and expressing gratitude to others is good for our mental health and physical well-being. It quite literally changes our brain and body chemistry and makes us feel good. While others benefit from knowing we are grateful to them, we benefit even more – it’s the gift that keeps on giving – to the giver! What’s not to love? I recommend the book if you have time to read it, but if not, the practice is pretty simple to understand and you will soon find out if it works for you by just giving it a go.
All it involves is taking a moment every day to notice, and write down in a journal, three things for which you feel sincerely grateful. It doesn’t take long and it doesn’t have to be profound gratitude. Start wherever you are – just being grateful that the sun shone today, or the trains ran on time, or that it’s Friday will do the trick. Interestingly, the more you do this, the easier it gets. I feared I might run out of things to notice after my family, good health and loving where I live. Far from it – if anything it gets harder to choose which of the many more blessings I’m noticing I actually want to record.
That’s all there is to it, with the addition of a few tips I’ve found helpful:
- First, it’s a discipline (a new habit) and it will be easier to remember to do it if you pick a regular time or cue. I find first thing in the morning before I get out of bed works well and primes me to feel positive for the day. If you’re not so much a morning person, maybe when you get into bed at night will work better, or as soon as the kids are in bed, or when you’re having your first cup of coffee.
- Second, writing them down is important, both for neuroscientific reasons and because it creates a powerful record to look back on. So buy yourself a beautiful journal and make the record part of the enjoyment.
- Finally, as you write them down, let yourself FEEL the gratitude, don’t just stay in your head with the thought intellectually. Connecting with the felt experience of gratitude will amplify and accelerate the effect.
Now, I’m not suddenly going to turn into some endlessly positive and optimistic Pollyanna character overnight and neither would I want to. It’s not in my nature AND I believe it’s vitally important that we acknowledge feelings of disappointment, pain and sadness when truly bad things happen (and they sometimes do). I struggle to find authenticity in those who can never admit to feeling that way, no matter what happens to them. What I am finding though, is that through rebalancing my habitual perceptions of what is happening to and around me, I have a newly calibrated bad-o-meter. The relatively insignificant aspects of my life that used to cause me irritation or concern have lost their grip on my attention. I am daily more aware of just how much I have to be thankful for and I feel all the better, stronger and happier for it.
Well, that’s my first ever blog written – that’s something to be grateful for!