The idea of gratitude is currently being hailed as the be-all-end-all cure for every negative emotion we can conjure up in our relationships. Its importance can be seen being flouted throughout the most credible psychology publications all the way through to basic self-help books. Gratitude appears to be the blanket cure for it all at this period of time, yet the most practical question persistently remains for me, is it? And…if it is, how to we implement this idea from disconnected text into our “actual” real lives?
As a practicing counsellor in the field, I feel it is my responsibility and duty to my clients to “practice what I preach” so to say. This just basically means that I do not suggest that my clients do any activity to increase mental well-being without me having first tried it myself. That being said, I scoured all of the different available websites and resources that I could possibly find to gain a better understanding of what it actually looks like to be grateful while the question continued to burn in my mind, “What can I practically do to feel genuinely grateful in such a way that it very significantly increases the happiness of both my spouse and I in the relationship?”
What I found when INITIALLY trying to practice myself was highly disappointing. It turns out that it is quite a feat to get into the right frame of mind to feel that glow from within grow and warm you to the point that you feel almost overwhelmed in the most beautiful way about how wonderful your life is….just as it is. Also, disappointingly, I did not levitate. Not an inch.
With practice though, I was finally able to figure out what helps get you to that wondrous place where gratefulness comes easy and naturally, but not without some hard work and many failed attempts. I would like to share the knowledge I have gleaned though my difficult wrestling match with the formidable task of feeling grateful.
Tip # 1
Before you begin, try to make sure you are in good frame of mind. This meaning that you are not hungry, tired, overworked, grumpy, just had a huge fight with your spouse, your teenager, your toddler is currently throwing a temper tantrum etc. You get the point. When I was reading about gratefulness I read over and over about how you can just do it anywhere at any time and it will all be peaches and cream. This was not the case for me. I needed to be in a calm well-slept mind frame to really feel what I was doing. Just going through the motions was not enough.
When you are starting to practice feeling grateful it can be difficult, even more so when the issues I just mentioned are prevailing over your moment. Make some time for yourself or take some time for yourself on a day where you are feeling OK enough to be open and present.
Tip # 2
Pick the spot where you would like to practice gratefulness carefully at first. A noisy coffee shop or the clammy transit ride home after a busy day at work might not cut it for you. Think some nice scenery, preferably outdoors somewhere that you like to sit or even walk slowly (saunter if you will). Some people connect better through being still where others find movement helpful. Find what feels right for you and work it!
Schedule a set time to practice feeling grateful everyday for the first two weeks. It takes effort to change our automatic thought process, and we are essentially rewiring our brains when we practice feeling grateful. By scheduling the practice into your everyday life you ensure that you are doing the work daily to alter and even change what is usually popping into your head in the most positive of ways.
After two weeks of doing this I noticed that I was automatically grateful at unscheduled times throughout the day! I was doing the practicing and the practicing was making perfect. The most amazing I can hope for you to ultimately feel is when you are at the point where you find yourself being grateful for being grateful.
Tip # 4
Like Nike says, Just do it! Follow tips 1-3 and get started on your path to a happier relationship, and as far as I’m concerned, a happier life. Now to the good stuff, here is what you can do daily.
- Think of three things you are grateful for. Really think and feel. It can be as simple as the way my dog looks at me with his sweet little face when he wants a cookie, or as complex as the fact that I am the woman that I am because of the powerful ancestors I have who weren’t afraid to stand up for the underdog and fight corruption and injustice even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice. Choose something that evokes some real emotion in you if possible. This might take a few tries to get to, but keep trying because the outcome will be worth it. If it feels as if you are just going through the motions at first fear not, this will change with time and practice.
- When you have thought of the three things write them down on separate little pieces of paper.
- Put them in an old jar (or plastic container). It can be whatever you feel suits this task. This will be your happiness jar. Decorate it as you like, have some fun with it!
- At the end of the two weeks read all of the little pieces of paper in the jar
- FEEL AMAZING! YOU DID IT! (now put the little pieces back in the jar and keep adding!)
- Get a bigger jar 😉
All too often people, including myself, get so wrapped up in the big world problems that we forget to appreciate what we have. Maybe we are sick, maybe we are financially strapped or have a sick family member, maybe, maybe, maybe. The maybes are infinite in life.
When you practice being grateful you begin to pay attention to those long forgotten but extremely important details you have failed to give relevance to in your life ie. the small stuff. Things just naturally get easier when we cultivate peace, acceptance, and appreciation into our everyday lives.
I am happy to report that I practice gratefulness abundantly in my life and my love and appreciation for my partner has grown immensely since I began my own journey.
If you would like to know other skills to having a more grateful and healthy life, no matter what you’ve been through, join our tips list, and book a free, no obligation consultation to put things into practice. Isn’t it time you thanked yourself?
By: Stephanie Byrne, MA, CCC
The Science behind Gratitude:
“Researchers (Seargeant & Mongrain, 2009) at York University in Toronto divided 200 moderately depressed people into two groups. Over the course of seven days, one group listened daily to music designed to boost mood, and the other completed an online “gratitude exercise” every night, in which they were asked to list “five things that happened during the day that [they] were grateful for.”
At five different points (start of study, end of study week, and one, three, and six months post-study), the researchers measured the participants’ depressive symptoms, happiness, and satisfaction with life in general.
What they found was that both groups were less depressed six months post-study, but the self-critical individuals in the gratitude group reported a greater boost in overall happiness than any of the other participants.”
Original Study: Sergeant, S. & Mongrain, M. (2009). Promoting Gratitude: Advantages for those Vulnerable to Depression. Symposium presentation at the 117th annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Toronto.