"Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic." - John Henry Jowett
Work can be stressful, unhealthy relationships can be stressful, commuting can be stressful, managing mortgages can be stressful. But you know what else can be really really stressful? Wanting more than we already have. This constant desiring, wanting, wishing, pining for things outside our reach is dangerous for our physical, emotional and spiritual health. The problem with having an attitude of lack is that it becomes a vicious cycle: we believe that there is never enough time, energy, love, money, work opportunities - fill in the blank - in the world and the very clinging to this belief ensures we remain in lack.
It is both healthy and necessary to have a sense of ambition and a vision for the future. However when we begin trading our happiness, wonder and joy of the present for the pursuit of these goals, we are in deep trouble. Besides wanting more (of anything) is a sure shot way to build resentment and negativity towards ourselves and others: there is always someone else who has something we want.
Stress, frustration, unhappiness: guaranteed!
Gratitude on the other hand has a completely different energy and feel to it. It brings us right back into the present moment. When we start looking at our lives with grateful eyes, our hearts are open to new and positive experiences, people and opportunities.
Confidence and self-esteem
Giving gratitude helps us see all that we've done to get where we are. For instance, without gratitude a person with a new job might begin thinking about the next new job or salary she or he would like. By offering gratitude for what is, we allow ourselves to acknowledge the energy, time and love we've poured into bringing us to this point in life. This brings an unshakable sense of confidence and self-esteem, making us less susceptible to outside judgments and expectations.
What we pay attention to, grows. The simple act of being aware of the positive aspects of our lives brings even more positive experiences and keeps us in an optimistic state of mind. With this attitude we're more fun to be around with - at work, at home or in social settings. A positive attitude is very attractive!
Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis has been at the forefront of research studying the physical, emotional and interpersonal benefits of living in gratitude. Studies now show that people who give gratitude regularly have better immunity, and have lower risk of heat attacks and neuro-muscular disorders. They also report better sleep and less anxiety and depression.
Starting this process is a little challenging. After all we're surrounded by media reports that affirm our beliefs of lack. What I recommend to clients is to write just three things they are grateful for every night before they sleep. That's it. Like a muscle this habit grows, and before I know it, my clients are filling out pages and pages of things they are grateful for.
Looking for inspiration? Here are some starting points: just look around you. Your immediate environment is a great place to start. You are in a home that keeps you safe and protected. You have a comfortable bed and a cozy blanket to keep you warm. If you're writing or typing you probably have the use of one or both arms. Your eyes help you experience the many wonders of the Universe. We all have loved ones that we share our home or life with. Did someone hold a door open for you today? A friend who texted you before you turned off those lights? A yummy chocolate mousse that hit the spot after dinner?
That's eight things already.
I prefer the traditional pen and paper method, but for the tech-savvy, there's a wonderful app called The Gratitude Journal that lets you add images, design templates and quotes.
The slightest shift in perspective can change the quality of our lives dramatically. Worth a try, don't you think?