To acknowledge Mental Health Awareness week, I want to share with you a practice that I try to do every day that has helped me with my mental health…..the Practice of Gratitude.
Research is starting to explore how gratitude works and the importance it can play in improving our mental health.
With gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives, connecting us to something larger than ourselves as individuals – whether it be to other people, nature or even a higher power. Gratitude has been strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness and it helps us to feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health, deal better with adversity in our lives and to build stronger relationships.
So much of our time and energy can be spent pursuing things that we currently don’t have or forever searching for peace or happiness in our lives. There are so many gifts in our every day so it’s about developing an awareness and an appreciation to all these simple everyday things and this is the key to gratitude – to focus on what we have instead of what we feel we lack. These things are easy to overlook but try to make a mindful choice to be aware and to create a daily habit of expressing gratitude for those things.
Gratitude can help us to appreciate all the precious things, people, beauty and blessings that we already have in our everyday life which helps us to encompass a healthy perspective on what the important things are in our lives and what truly matters.
I believe and research supports my belief that gratitude is the foundation of happiness and joy
Think about all the things in your life that you can feel grateful for:
Your health and wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of those close to you
All the comforts that you have in your life – warm dry house, warm clothing, a warm comfortable bed to sleep in, the clean water that you drink. So many things that we take for granted.
All the beauty that surrounds you in the world – the fresh air that you breathe, a beautiful sunny day, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the incredible colours of nature, the scent of flowers, the clouds in the sky, animals
For the wisdom and learnings that you have acquired in your life
The people you love and care for and the family and friends who love and care for you
The kindness or generosity that you have received or have given to others
The connection that you have with other people – a smile as you pass someone in the street or a thank you to someone serving you coffee
The things that you have achieved – getting out with your baby, a run to the end of the road, for making some time for self-care and having a bath or reading a book in the sun, for finishing a task that has been challenging
Gratitude is easy to do when things are going well for us but it’s important to practice it regularly. Some days it is harder to find what you are grateful for particularly during times of struggle or disappointment but even when life gets challenging you can still find and feel gratitude for things in your life, it’s just about looking for them. No matter what is going on inside or outside of us there is always something that we can be grateful for. It doesn’t mean however that we should dismiss our feelings or emotions during these more challenging times, otherwise that would be superficial happiology, instead it is about realizing that you have the power to transform your challenge, whatever it may be into an opportunity and help to turn a negative experience into a more positive one.
So for me, practicing gratitude looks like this:
I have a gratitude journal that sits beside my bed that I write in most nights. On those nights where I am too tired to write, I just say them in my head instead or I offer up a quiet prayer of thanks as I reflect upon my day
When I am out walking, I stay really mindful and open to all the beautiful things that are around me in nature. I literally, stop and smell the roses!
I make time to thank people in my life who have given me joy such as a fun day out with a friend and I express my appreciation to them on how that made me feel
I find moments when I meditate each day to feel grateful for the some of the blessings that I have received
As a family, we created a ‘Gratitude jar’ a couple of years ago where each member writes something they have been grateful for and we sit down as a family and read them out every 3 months or so
I also recently introduced practicing gratitude at our family dinners (ignoring the eye roll and resistance from one of my teenagers initially) as I felt that some were struggling and that this could be positive for all of us as we experienced another lock down together. My eye roller has completely brought in now and seeing their journey from doubter to believer has been a special one
So these are some of the ways that I practice gratitude but you will find your own way and what feels right for you. There are so many wonderful benefits but like any habit, it takes time to incorporate something new into your life. Although it may feel contrived at first, your practice will strengthen in time and it will become a part of you. It has had such a profound effect on me that I could not imagine my life without it now.