By: Beth Elko
Feeling and conveying gratitude is an essential function on one’s journey to peace and happiness. This is not limited to our emotional realm, but also affects our physical realm. Repetitive positive thought/activity can literally, physically rewire your brain. This is known as neuroplasticity. A significant amount of people I meet or counsel who are depressed or unhappy are generally people who have lost touch with gratitude. Losing touch with gratitude puts one in jeopardy of developing a sense of entitlement. Having a sense of entitlement will lead to resentment, depression, and anger. Research has shown that a person who expresses or feels gratitude on a consistent basis rates significantly higher in terms of life happiness and success. Although our lives don’t always go in the direction that we would like them to, expressing/feeling gratitude in addition to what we have but also for what is kind and good with the world, is one way to vanquish depression. Regardless of what our personal dilemmas are, it’s essential to PAUSE and value everything that is not only good in our lives but also others’ lives as well. This is easier said than done so here are a few tips and exercises in helping you develop and recognize gratitude.
1. First thing I do upon wakening is say at least one thing that I am grateful for. This does not have to apply only to your personal life but could be extended to nature as well. For instance, one can say “I am grateful for my family,” “I am grateful for the sun,” “I am grateful for my dog,” “I am grateful for everything that is kind.” This is all subjective and it is important for you to make it applicable and personal to you.
2. Begin a gratitude list. This list is meant to serve as a “go to” coping skill to remind you of life’s gifts that are often overlooked. Its function is to help you recognize life’s gift, especially when you’re feeling down. Carry it with you. This list should consist of 20 things (at a minimum) that you are grateful for. Make sure to include things you enjoy as well. For example, food in the refrigerator, sunny days, green grass, a kind cashier, etc..
3. Create a daily gratitude journal/diary. The difference between a gratitude list and a gratitude journal is that the journal is to consist of events/things that occurred that day that you are grateful for. This doesn’t have to be complicated. If you are someone who enjoys writing, you can make your daily entries as long as you like. If you are someone who does not enjoy writing, simply jot down ALL of the positive things that happened in your day or things that you acknowledged gratitude for.
4. Begin to appreciate everything with fresh eyes. Start with the basics and look at nature with wonder and admiration. For example: a sunny day, a beautiful sky, a rainy day when you feel like just staying in and cozying up to a person or book.
5. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Ask yourself if you’re the type of person who is self-absorbed/occupied. If there is something in your life that you’re unhappy with, take steps to change it instead of complaining.
6. Don’t take anything for granted. We are entitled to nothing but the pursuit of happiness and even that is a blessing in this country because in some other countries that’s not even an option.
7. Count your blessings. I have met individuals who are dying who still have the ability to express grace, courage and appreciation for the time they’ve had and the time they have left.
8. Count the “little things.” Notice all the kindness that people or the universe has bestowed on you. For example: a driver allowing you to turn, someone holding the door for you, a person who says “thank you.”
9. Interrupt the scripted nature of your negative speech and replace it with something positive or thoughtful. For instance, whenever I’m in the car and someone blares their horn at me, rather than respond with thoughts of “What an idiot!” I simply remind myself not to allow someone else’s issue to become mine and think, “Maybe he/she is having a really difficult day. I hope his/her day gets better.”
10. Wish well of others and bestow kindness onto everyone. Nothing makes me feel better or more gracious than giving back to others and to nature. When is the last time you did something kind for someone? Make it a regular practice to do so.
This could be the beginning of life’s journey to happiness for you. I personally think it’s best to follow the list in the order I have posted. However, we are all different and something that works for me, may not work for you. If this list is overwhelming, begin first with five that you can identify with and then every week add two more. With practice and consistency in showing/expressing gratitude, you will find that your life will become much more rewarding and you will develop a deeper sense of peace.