Posts Tagged ‘thankfulness’

Giving Thanks When You’re Not Thankful

“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”– Amy Collette

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m guessing you understand the value of gratitude. You’ve been told how a thankful heart can change your perspective, open up possibilities, and produce positive emotions. You’ve learned that expressing thanks can lift your spirits and make others feel appreciated. You probably know that gratitude can help develop resilience as you go through difficult times. And as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, you’re reminded it is a time to be thankful.

But what if you’re not feeling thankful?

Times are tough. The fear, uncertainty, and sense of a loss of control over life as you once knew it can feel overwhelming. Just watch the news or scan your social media feed and you’ll see a plethora of negative stories and posts, with an ample supply of “2020: Worst Year Ever!” memes. The loss that people are experiencing seems to be present at every turn. You may have lost your job. You may have lost a loved one. You may have lost your social life. You may have lost your confidence in leadership. You may have lost your ability to get out and exercise at your favorite gym or enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant. You may have lost your [you fill in the blank]. All of this loss can leave you feeling discontent and discouraged, and a far cry from feeling thankful. So how are you supposed to feel thankful when everything’s going wrong?

“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”– Sonja Lyubomirsky

Waiting around for the feeling of gratitude to come along may prove to be a long, long wait. Instead, try taking a few steps in a grateful direction and see if the feelings follow.

1-Keep a thankful jar. Find a notepad and an old, colorful jar and place it somewhere you can see it and reach it conveniently. Each time something positive happens, no matter how great or how small, write it down on a small scrap of paper, fold it, and place it in the jar. Try to write at least one thing a day (or more). You may have to search for positives at first, but look closely. They’re there.

2-Use the words, “thank you” often in your daily vocabulary. Who can you thank? Maybe a friend shared a kind word, or someone opened a door for you. Maybe someone liked your post, or someone gave you that choice parking spot. Even if you feel something was owed you (like a client finally sending that payment!), make it a habit to say thanks.

3-Reflect back on past successes, and think about who helped you reach those milestones. Maybe your parents served as a source of encouragement, or you had a mentor who took time out of their busy schedule for you. Take a moment to send them a text to let them know how much you appreciate them. Be specific with your praise.

4-Notice the little things and savor. From where you’re sitting as you read this, look up and look around. Allow your eyes to fall on something beautiful, something cherished, something you value. It may be an expensive item or a small trinket — cost doesn’t matter. Take a moment to note why this item brings you joy. Try doing this when you take a walk outside or on your commute to work.

5-Share a positive story with a friend. Research shows that retelling a positive event you experienced enables you feel the positive emotions associated with that event again and again — as often as you tell it — and allows the listener to feel them as well! Think back on something which brought you a host of positive emotions and find a friend to share the joy.

6-Be kind to yourself. Many are feeling isolated these days, and have very little interaction with others. So who better to get in the habit of showing kindnesses to than yourself? Take good care of your body (sleep, eating, exercise) and celebrate your successes. Forgive yourself of past wrongs and appreciate yourself for the person you are and are becoming. Thank yourself for the efforts you are putting into growth and change.

“We don’t need to see things differently to be grateful, rather be grateful to see things differently.” — Niki Hardy

Gratitude may be a new skill for you. But as with any new skill set, practice makes perfect. The more you are able to incorporate exercises such as these into your daily life, the more gratitude you’ll begin to feel. Don’t wait for the perfect set of circumstances to begin down the path of thankfulness. Circumstances are not in our control, but our gratitude is. So get started today. Even if you don’t feel like it…yet.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melodie Beattie

Gratitude for a new life

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’re a regular consumer of social media, you’ve most likely seen this question pop up on your news feed: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today?” It makes us all stop and think, in the moment at least, and offer up a few sentiments to the universe before going on with our previously-scheduled programming of stress, worry, and negativity.

But what if you considered making gratitude part of your everyday life?

Gratitude is a positive emotion.  While some define it as “the state of being grateful” or “expressing thanks”, I like this definition best:

“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.” — Harvard Medical School

However you elucidate it, feeling and expressing gratitude has a positive impact on both you and others. I challenge you to find an article or video describing the ill-effects of gratitude. There are many reasons why we’d want to develop a heart of gratitude, and here are just a few.

A Healthier Body

According to Robert Emmons, leading researcher on gratitude and its effects, those who practice gratitude in a consistent manner report a host of benefits including stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and are less bothered by aches and pains. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good). In an article published in the National Communication Association’s Review of Communication, Stephen M. Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins explored the connection between the expression of gratitude and physical health. They found that gratitude consistently associates with many positive health states and reduced reports of negative physical symptoms. (https://www.natcom.org/press-room/expressing-gratitude-makes-us-healthier-who-wouldn%E2%80%99t-be-grateful)

“Gratitude can be an incredibly powerful and invigorating experience. There is growing evidence that being grateful may not only bring good feelings. It could lead to better health.” – Jeff Huffman

Peace of Mind

Gratitude can also benefit our mental health. Emmons conducted multiple studies linking gratitude and mental well-being. His findings were that gratitude can increase happiness and decrease depression. And a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that athletes can increase their self-esteem, an important component of mental wellness, by expressing gratitude. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022440507000386)
“Results indicated that counting blessings was associated with enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and decreased negative affect.” In a separate study, children who practiced grateful thinking showed signs of more positive attitudes toward their family and at school. (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

Sleep Tight

And how about that elusive but necessary thing called sleep? A study done in 2016 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that more than one third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. (http://www.healthcommunities.com/sleep-disorders/overview-of-sleep-disorders.shtml) Struggling to doze off, waking in the middle of the night, tossing and turning, starting the day feeling exhausted– sound familiar? Try gratefulness as a sleep aid. One study showed that those who were grateful fell asleep quickly and slept more soundly, supporting evidence that more grateful people may sleep better because they have more positive thoughts when they lay down to go to  sleep. Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399908004224). And in a 2008 study by Alex M. Wood, “Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.” (https://www.jpsychores.com/article/S0022-3999(08)00422-4/fulltext)

Make new friends

Gratitude can help with creating new relationships. A study led by UNSW psychologist Dr Lisa Williams and Dr Monica Bartlett of Gonzaga University showed that the practice of thanking a new acquaintance for their help makes them more likely to seek an ongoing social relationship with you.  “Our findings represent the first known evidence that expression of gratitude facilitates the initiation of new relationships among previously unacquainted people,” says Dr. Williams.

But how?

Gratitude acts as a strengthener of our positive emotions, like exercise for the muscles. This practice of appreciation eliminates feelings of envy and angst as it allows our memories to be happier. Through gratitude, we experience positive feelings, which in turn help us thrive after disappointments and failures. It shifts our attention away from toxic emotions and makes it harder to ruminate on negative events. In a study done by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown in 2007,  involving 300 subjects who were seeking mental health counseling, they found that when people are more grateful, they experienced brain activity which is distinct from neurological activity related to a negative emotion such as guilt. In addition, they exhibited a greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with learning and decision making. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain)

Now what?

Though we may understand the many benefits of expressing gratitude, incorporating it into our day-to-day lives can be tricky.  Life’s pressures bear down on us and staying thankful often doesn’t come naturally…negativity does. But with a little effort, it is possible to maintain an attitude of gratitude.  Here are some ideas to try:

1-Eat thankfulness for breakfast.  Literally, don’t allow yourself to get out of bed until you’ve said, out loud, at least 5 things you are thankful for, whether great or small.  Pause after each and soak in the warm, positive feelings that are associated with each. It’s a healthy and optimistic way to start each day.

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” — Kahlil Gibran

2-Fill a thankful jar.  Find a colorful jar at a local thrift shop and set it somewhere you can see it throughout the day. On a scrap of paper, jot down anything and everything that happens each day that makes a positive impact on you:  a kind word from a colleague, a surprise gift from a loved one, the beautiful sunrise on your way to the office, the aroma from your pumpkin spice latte. Wad these up and throw them in your jar, then, at the end of the year, spend an evening reading through each special moment.  You’ll feel like the richest person in the world.

3-Say it.  Get in the habit of saying “thank you”, to everyone you interact with…the barista, the security guard, your coworkers — even those you don’t get along with.  And don’t forget to thank yourself — self-love is an important part of maintaining a positive outlook — and taking time to appreciate your own accomplishments, achievements, and successes can help with that.  “I appreciate you” is a great ending to almost any email or text!

4-Let gratitude tuck you in at night.  Before going to bed, try opting out of scrolling through what everyone else in the world is doing, and instead, journal about a positive event from today. It may be as small as, “I got out of the house without spilling my coffee”, or as grandiose as realizing a long-term goal — but no matter the significance, get in the habit of writing the positives down.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”– Henry Ward Beecher

And who knows, your own attitude of gratitude may be just the encouragement someone else needs. Don’t be surprised if, as you grow in expressing gratitude, that others will want a piece of the pie.  Joy is contagious and when others seeing you living a life of physical health, mental health, sleeping deeply and enjoying healthy relationships — to name a few — they will want to learn your secret.  If not for yourself, consider developing a heart of gratitude to be a light to others and encourage them to live a new life.

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

What would bear lots of fruit?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The practice:  Water your fruit tree

Why?

My wife and kids tease me that the title of this practice is corny – and it is. Still, I like it. If you don’t nourish the things that nourish you, they wither away like a plant in dry stony ground.

Looking to the year ahead for you – a year that can begin whenever you want –what’s one key thing that will bear lots of fruit for you if you take care of it?

There is usually one thing – or two or three – that you know in your heart is a key factor in your well-being, functioning, and how you treat others. It’s often a seemingly small thing in the rush and complexity of a typical day. It could be getting that 15 minute break each day with a cup of tea and no interruptions . . . or writing in your journal . . . or feeling grateful for three blessings in your life before falling asleep . . . or asking your partner questions about his or her day and really listening . . . or taking your vitamins or eating protein with every meal . . . or getting home in time for dinner with the kids unless you’re traveling . . . or getting up an hour earlier each day to start writing that book. It could be finally now making that shift for which your heart has been longing.

For me, one thing that pops off the page is going to bed early enough to get enough sleep plus be able to get up in time to meditate. Doing this sets up my whole day and makes it better.

As you know, most New Year’s resolutions are worse than useless: they don’t lead to real change and we feel bad about not sticking to them. But if you think of this as feeding yourself, being good to yourself, giving yourself a big wonderful gift each day, nourishing something that will pay off big for you . . . well, it sure is a lot easier to keep treating yourself well in this way.

How?

What’s on your own short list of the things that would make a big difference for you? Perhaps you, too, would benefit from getting to bed earlier. Or from listening to someone for five minutes or more each day with no expectations. Or from regular exercise, meditation, or prayer. Or from dropping one bad habit, or from picking up that guitar again. Perhaps making art would make a big difference for you, or staying calm with the kids, or finally beginning to spend a few hours each week on starting your new business.

Take a moment to imagine the rewards to you and others if you did this one good thing for yourself tomorrow. How would you feel at the end of the day? What would be the benefits? And then imagine those benefits coming to you and others the day after tomorrow . . . and the days and weeks and months after that.

Of course, all you can do is tend to the causes; you can’t control the results. You can water a fruit tree but you can’t make it give you an apple. But no matter what happens, you know you have tried your best.

Keep coming back to the feeling of nurturing yourself. It’s OK to take care of yourself in this way. Try to feel the warmth for yourself, the strength to gently guide your future self – the one who will be doing this one good thing tomorrow, and the days after that – to keep watering this particular fruit tree.

And know that you can water more than one tree. But it helps to zero in on just one or a few things to focus on for a year.

And then a year from now, looking back to this day, you’ll likely be enjoying a beautiful sweet rich harvest!

https://www.rickhanson.net/writings/just-one-thing/just-one-thing-simple-practices/

 

Insights from a Year of Daily ‘Gratitude Journal’ Entries

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper

We are approaching Thanksgiving, which means that Christmas is coming fast! It’s a special time of year for pausing and feeling grateful for our many blessings!

In October of 1863, during our bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln issued an executive proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving, to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It was not a new concept, as a day set aside for giving thanks had been celebrated in a variety of locations for years. Lincoln and many others hoped that an officially sanctioned NATIONAL holiday would contribute to restoring peace to the suffering disunited states.

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, would you be willing to experiment with setting aside a small amount of time EVERY day to express your gratitude for some unique aspect of your life? I started doing that a little over a year ago. I was deeply grateful for the experiences in my life to that point–and for the opportunities that I imagined still lie ahead for me!

This article has two purposes. First and primary is to encourage you to start a gratitude journal and work to keep at it for a significant amount of time. The second purpose is to provide a report on what the experience has meant to me–the two key insights that a year of daily reflections has provided.
Long-time readers may recall a similar article from years ago, 2006 to be precise. (You can find “The Gratitude Journal Challenge” on my Article Archives–address below.) Every day for a month, I acknowledged five items in my life for which I was grateful. Identifying 155 items without repeating any was quite a challenge, yet I found it both doable and deeply enjoyable.

In this recent effort–begun ten years after the first experience–my intent was to identify one item a day for a year. I expected to write about half a page each day; most entries wound up being longer.
Now, let me advocate that you consider starting a gratitude journal with the guideline being whatever you define. You can do five a day for a month, one a day for a year, or anything else you so desire.
Would you like to start in a fun way? Gather family and friends to watch the classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As soon as the movie ends, invite everyone to share examples of gratitude, affirming each other with enhancements and additions.

As the energy wanes, announce your plan to start a gratitude journal, explaining your intentions. Ask others to consider doing the same, to include perhaps periodically sharing what each of you have highlighted, appreciating your gratitude together.

Now, let me share my two overarching observations from a year of daily contemplations. First is that we’ve all been blessed with an amazing abundance of gifts that we did not earn, yet we’ve quietly accepted and treat as if they are entitlements. This awareness resulted in another article you can find on my website, “I Don’t Deserve This.”

My second recurring source of gratitude includes the many friends and family members who have meant so much to me throughout my life. I’m considering sending a hard copy of this article in my Christmas cards this year, highlighting my appreciation for the recipients. I am deeply grateful for both the good times we’ve shared and the hard times during which we grew together!

If you choose to generate a gratitude journal, I welcome you sharing your dominant insights with me. Maybe you’ll affirm these two. Maybe yours will be different. However, I can almost guarantee you that your daily outlook will be more positive than it is now.

That’s the point I want to make as I close. Yes, I’ve shared two content items that kept coming up for me from my daily reflections. However, what’s even more remarkable is that the process of daily focusing on blessings transforms over time from a challenge (“I can’t think of what to record tonight!”) to a contemplative choice (“Which one will I record tonight?”).

I won’t go so far as to say that “gratitude” becomes a habit. I will say that even in the most troubling of days, you’ll pick out blessings for which you are appreciative. Will your resulting attitude be one filled with more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control? Give it a try and send me a note, telling me how it has worked for you. I can assure you in advance, I’ll be grateful!

An attitude of gratitude

Some happenings were notable blessings, others just small acts of kindness, or a glimpse of beauty. Someone bought me dinner. I found a hidden $20 in an old coat pocket. The sunrise was an orange-pink creamsicle. I was invited to meet Peyton Manning at a breakfast. My car started again after stalling out.  None of these were life-changing, in and of themselves. But I found the more odds and ends I wrote down, the more I began noticing the remarkable things that were happening all around me throughout the day. I wondered if other years had been like this, full of successes and joys, and I just hadn’t noticed. Six months passed and the jar was overflowing. I had to get another jar.

A study was done by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCoullough on the impact gratitude has on our well being. They put people into three groups — one group with instructions to simply keep a daily journal, no specifications as to content. The second group was to only record negative experiences, and the third to make a list of things they were thankful for. The results? Those who daily expressed their gratitude experienced less stress and depression and had higher levels of enthusiasm, energy, and determination, concluding that those in the third group were more likely to make progress toward the achievement of personal goals and exhibit an optimistic view of life.

I’m not much for get-rich-quick schemes, but I do believe that incorporating gratitude into our daily lives is an easy and practical way to increasing a sense of abundance. Realistic optimism, a trait of emotional intelligence, results from seeing opportunities despite negative obstacles around us. It’s that ability to see challenges as hurdles that can be leaped, being unfazed by defeat, and operating from a mindset of success rather than a fear of failure. It’s not that the negative things no longer exist, or happen; it’s that we no longer primarily focus on them and let them bog us down.

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”  –Brene Brown

On New Year’s Eve of that year, I emptied my jars. Seeing the hundreds of notes spread out across my bed, and reading the little snippets of love, joy, and wonder that I experienced the year before, many of which I’d forgotten, made my heart sing. I felt like the richest girl on earth! This practice of expressing gratitude in writing changed my heart from the inside out and completely refreshed my perspective.

If you’re struggling to find the good in your day-to-day life, don’t wait until the start of the new year to develop the mindset of gratitude. November is as good of month as any to start. It may be a stretch at first to even find one positive thing in your day worthy of writing down, but try it. Search for them, if needed, as you’d scour the house for a valuable possession you misplaced. Keep your eyes, ears, and hearts attuned to even the tiniest of blessings, no matter how silly they may seem.

Then let me know how your jar’s looking by June.

“To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.” — Robert Emmons

What’s in your jar?

Some happenings were notable blessings, others just small acts of kindness, or a glimpse of beauty. Someone bought me dinner. I found a hidden $20 in an old coat pocket. The sunrise was an orange-pink creamsicle. I was invited to meet Peyton Manning at a breakfast. My car started again after stalling out.  None of these were life-changing, in and of themselves. But I found the more odds and ends I wrote down, the more I began noticing the remarkable things that were happening all around me throughout the day. I wondered if other years had been like this, full of successes and joys, and I just hadn’t noticed. Six months passed and the jar was overflowing. I had to get another jar.

A study was done by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCoullough on the impact gratitude has on our well being. They put people into three groups — one group with instructions to simply keep a daily journal, no specifications as to content. The second group was to only record negative experiences, and the third to make a list of things they were thankful for. The results? Those who daily expressed their gratitude experienced less stress and depression and had higher levels of enthusiasm, energy, and determination, concluding that those in the third group were more likely to make progress toward the achievement of personal goals and exhibit an optimistic view of life.

I’m not much for get-rich-quick schemes, but I do believe that incorporating gratitude into our daily lives is an easy and practical way to increasing a sense of abundance. Realistic optimism, a trait of emotional intelligence, results from seeing opportunities despite negative obstacles around us. It’s that ability to see challenges as hurdles that can be leaped, being unfazed by defeat, and operating from a mindset of success rather than a fear of failure. It’s not that the negative things no longer exist, or happen; it’s that we no longer primarily focus on them and let them bog us down.

On New Year’s Eve of that year, I emptied my jars. Seeing the hundreds of notes spread out across my bed, and reading the little snippets of love, joy, and wonder that I experienced the year before, many of which I’d forgotten, made my heart sing. I felt like the richest girl on earth! This practice of expressing gratitude in writing changed my heart from the inside out and completely refreshed my perspective.

If you’re struggling to find the good in your day-to-day life, don’t wait until the start of the new year to develop the mindset of gratitude. November is as good of month as any to start. It may be a stretch at first to even find one positive thing in your day worthy of writing down, but try it. Search for them, if needed, as you’d scour the house for a valuable possession you misplaced. Keep your eyes, ears, and hearts attuned to even the tiniest of blessings, no matter how silly they may seem.

Then let me know how your jar’s looking by June.

 

“To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.” — Robert Emmons

thankful jar notes

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