Whenever life gets me down, I turn to two things: mindfulness or gratitude. If things are so bad that I can't focus on my mindfulness (and kindfulness) practice, then gratitude works really well for me. Gratitude practice is easy to do and can certainly make you feel better.
Gratitude practice is simply taking the time, as often as possible, to think, write, talk or draw about what's going well in your life. It's about saying thank you rather taking things for granted. And gratitude practice is more powerful than you probably thought. Here's why:
Benefits of Gratitude practice
Why does taking a few minutes of your time to think about what you're grateful for, result in higher levels of wellbeing? Here's why:
- You focus on what's going well - When you take time to think about what you're grateful for in your life, you're focusing on the positive. You probably know about the benefits of seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty. But have you ever considered that it's the same glass? The reality is the same, it's just you're seeing it in a more helpful, uplifting way.
- You put things into perspective - When life gets difficult, it's easy to pay attention to the negatives. By taking the time to consider what's going your way at the moment, you put things back into balance. Life is probably not as bad as you think. There are probably other people out there suffering far more than you. Spare a thought for them too.
- You start to notice more positive things - By taking the time to be grateful, you're more likely to notice other positive things going on. For example, yesterday I thought about how lucky I was to have a job that I love. Then, I remembered all the specific people that I'd met through my work that made me smile. And then I remembered the wonderful speakers that I had the honor to listen to, including the Dalai Lama! But taking time to be grateful, a chain of positive thoughts unravelled themselves.
- You become more mindful - Mindfulness is about noticing what happening around you. The act of reflecting on what's going well for you makes you more aware and awake - that's mindfulness. It's taking a step out of your usual ideas, and looking around at how fortunate you actually are.
- You pay less time with your circling thoughts - I see a lot of clients who suffer from anxiety. This involves lots of worry. When you're worrying, you're focusing on the future and what could go wrong. By practising gratitude you're reflecting on the present moment, and what's going well about it. You're immediately spending less time worrying, and therefore your level of anxiety will probably ease too.
How to practise Gratitude
There is probably an infinite way of practising gratitude. Here are a few of the most common ones. If you know any others, please share them in the comments below:
- Writing statements down - This is the technique I use most often. You simply need to spend a few minutes in the morning, evening or any time of day, to reflect on what you're grateful for. I would recommend at least three different things to start with, and as you get better at it, you can do more.
- Thanking someone - Simple! Just text, call or actually say thanks to someone. Expressing gratitude is even more powerful than just thinking gratitude.
- Saying a prayer or reflection - Some of you may be religious and pray already. Let your prayers be filled with gratitude rather than focusing on asking God for a new Ferrari. Just be grateful for your mini and take things from there.
- Sharing gratitude digitally - You could use a gratitude app like we love mojo or the gratitude garden, or you could join me in my Facebook gratitude group.
- Gratitude body scan meditation - If you're into mindfulness (and you probably are, I guess), then you've heard of the body scan meditation. Well, adapt it to the gratitude body scan by going through each body part and saying to yourself why you're grateful for it. I'm sure you'll have fun doing this with some of your body parts. :)
Examples of Gratitude Statements
Sometimes it can be difficult to think of what you're grateful for. If you're struggling, here's a little helping hand for you
- Food. There's billions of people that don't have enough food to eat everyday. Do you?
- Shelter. If you have a home to go back to and sleep in, out of the elements, you can count yourself lucky.
- Clothing. Most people reading this have one pair of clothes, at least. That's something to be grateful for.
- Family. Do you have family members? Any of whom you like? If so, this is a big one. You're very fortunate if you have a loving family. Many don't.
- Friends. If you have even one friend, that's something worth celebrating. Without friendship, life is tricky. So if you have a friend out there somewhere, meet or call them if you can. And say thank you.
- Job. Do you have a job that pays you money? If so, that's wonderful. There are more and more with no job at all. Even if you don't like your job, at least you have some money coming in.
- Health. I hope you have some health, if not everything. Health is so precious and yet so easy to take for granted when things are going lovely jubly.
- You're alive on planet earth. I'm pretty sure you're alive and on earth. If so, that's a miracle itself, don't you think? What a beautiful planet we live on, with beaches, forests, mountains and lakes. Millions of different animals, countless plants, birds, trees.
- Access to the internet. If you're online, you're connect with millions, if not billions, of other people. That's amazing, isn't it?
Scientific Benefits of Gratitude
One of the best sources of research on gratitude is by Dr Robert Emmons. Here's what he found:
- People with gratitude journals, writing down what they were grateful for on a daily basis, did more exercise, were more optimistic and were positive about the week to come.
- People with gratitude journal make better progress on their personal goals
- Daily self-reflective gratitude exercises resulted in greater alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.
- People practising daily gratitude are more likely to report that they've helped someone else - either with their personal problems or offering emotional support
- There's evidence that gratitude practice leads to better quantity and quality of sleep.
- Even children who practise gratitude have a more positive attitude towards school and family life.
Top 5 Gratitude Videos
1. This is just a breath taking video on gratitude. You'll love it, I think.
2. This is a similarly visually beautiful video about both mindfulness and gratitude. It's so good!
3. What a cool, awesome gratitude song! Wow! :)
4. If you like watching people doing the gratitude dance all over the world, you'll love this one! Almost half a million views.
5. This is a popular song on mindfulness which has been listened to over 400,000 times on YouTube
Top 5 Gratitude Articles
There's a bunch of articles on gratitude out there. Well, more than a bunch. I got the cream of the crop and put them here for you to check out.