Finding Happiness Through Gratitude
I know I am always preaching about how practising gratitude can help your mood but did you know that it is also backed by science? This study even showed how it make changes to your brain.
Practising gratitude really works for me when I am feeling a bit fed up and focusing on all the negative things and I know it works for my clients, too. It is easy to get into that downward spiral when things aren’t going to plan or you’re feeling a bit low. However, focusing on your problems really doesn’t help. Instead, you need to turn those thoughts to all the many positive aspects of your life. Simply focusing on the positives breaks that pattern, raises your mood and can help you to feel inspired to find solutions to problems that previously felt overwhelming.
Try This Quick Experiment
Spend 5 minutes talking to a friend or family member about everything that has gone wrong this week. Tell them about all the negative aspects of your life and talk about people who have upset you. Then notice how you feel afterwards.
Now, turn your attention to all the things that have made you smile this week. Tell them about those instead. Talk to them about the people you love and anything kind that people have done for you. What do you really love about your life? Chat about that for 5 minutes and then see how that feels.
Do you notice the difference in your thoughts and feelings afterwards? Which made you feel better?
The more you complain out loud or even in your head, the more overwhelming the problems become. You end up completely focused on them and can’t see a way out.
So, how can you live a more joyful and grateful life?
My Four Top Tips
1. Surround Yourself with Positive People
Of course, this is not always possible. There may be those few miserable people in your life that you can’t avoid. You know the ones... They seem to suck the joy out of every situation, are never happy for you or anyone else and can only ever see the negative in any situation. However, as much as you can, choose to spend time with people who have a light and joyful energy about them.
When my fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety were at their worst, I joined many online “support groups”. What I began to find, though, was that I felt worse after reading everyone else’s comments and writing about all my own problems. The people I met were lovely and very sympathetic but none of us had any positive suggestions. All we did was compare pain levels and complain about how nobody understood us and how awful life was! I noticed in the end it was almost like a competition to see who was worse off! Many even had names like “Fibro-Jane” or “SallyFMSSufferer”. What’s that about? I could never understand why anyone would want to adopt their illness as part of their personality, but there was a lot of that! We really just supported the idea that we were all suffering unfairly and life was indeed miserable and all that was in store for us was deterioration and even more suffering. So, I started avoiding them. Instead, I looked at what I could do even whilst in pain or feeling anxious and joined groups where people were passionate about their hobbies. I started writing short stories and sharing those with an online writing group. I got lots of positive feedback and support and started feeling much better about myself. I also spent more time with more spiritual and upbeat people who radiated positivity and light. I started to feel so much better.
Now, you may love your support groups and feel you get a lot of comfort and actual support from them. Maybe you do feel better after speaking to others who are suffering in a similar way and they have some great ideas for how to help yourself. If not, may I suggest that you avoid them and instead start to socialise with people who share the things you love and that bring you joy? I promise, it will help your mood and make you feel better about life because, just as with practising daily gratitude, you will be focused on something positive. These people will encourage you to discuss the great things about life and if you do have a problem, they are more likely to offer solutions rather than just sympathise and compare notes.
2. Write a Gratitude Journal
This will help you to open your eyes and your mind and actually take notice of all the great things about your life. You can either use a blank notebook or buy a dedicated journal that has prompts and questions that help you turn your thoughts around. I particularly like this one and have just ordered myself a copy. Although I practise daily gratitude in a blank journal, I have got into the habit of writing similar things every day, which is not a good idea. Simply writing “I am grateful for my family and my dog” every single day doesn’t really get me thinking! It is also full of to-do lists and work stuff, so I am trying to practise what I preach and want to start a daily positivity journal full of all the things I am thankful for. I am hoping this little book and also writing this blog post will inspire me to be more creative, notice more about the happiness around me and get me thinking more deeply.
So, some questions to get us all thinking…
Who has helped you or done something kind for you today?
What or who made you smile or laugh today?
What do you particularly love about a cherished pet? What do they do that makes you smile?
Did you notice an act of love or kindness today, even if you weren’t directly involved?
Did you spend any time outside? What is your favourite things about nature? What did you notice about the local wildlife today?
What was the weather like today? What was good about that? (Even if you hate the rain, focus on what it does for the Earth and just imagine living in a dry country and how grateful those inhabitants would be to see some rain.)
Think back through your life to times when things didn’t go to plan. What good came from it? Did a redundancy or, as in my case, illness lead to a whole new career? Did a breakup eventually lead to you finding your soulmate or even make you realise that you are happy and independent and don’t need someone else to validate your worth?
What do you love most about your body?
Even if you are in pain, which parts of your body are you grateful for? (Tip...changing your focus to a comfortable part of the body can help to relieve pain.)
What are you looking forward to?
I am sure you can think of many other ideas.
Try to aim for at least three positive things every day and get into the habit of journaling at a certain time of day, whether that is in the morning when you wake or at night before you go to sleep. Be specific as that will encourage you to look for things throughout the day that you can include.
If you prefer to be a bit more techie, there are many journaling apps that you can download to your phone and some will prompt you at certain times to note something positive. Day One is a particular example that I have used in the past (although I found I personally preferred writing the old-fashioned way and went back to my journal). It is free and fairly easy to use but there are lots to choose from, so please have a look and choose one that suits you.
3. Keep a Gratitude Jar
Another lovely idea is to keep a dedicated gratitude jar in the house that you can keep for yourself or share with the rest of the family and encourage them to contribute. Decorate your jar and keep some small pieces of paper nearby and maybe some with you, too, so that you can make a note of anything that makes you feel good during the day. Note down any comments that light you up or a funny joke that made you laugh. Note a kind gesture from someone that made you feel valued. You can even put in photos or pictures that remind you of a happy event. At the end of the year, tip the notes out and go through them one by one. You can even do this when you are going through a hard time and feeling a bit down as it will cheer you up to look back on happier times and remind you that your mood or situation is only temporary.
4. Teach Your Children Gratitude
I previously wrote a blog post on how you can encourage children to be more grateful. Please click here if you'd like to read that. It is a wonderful habit to instil in them and younger ones will love spending time with you and sharing all the things you both love about life. It is a lovely way to end the day.
It can lead to any discussions about worries, too, that might not have come up otherwise. I know that goes against everything I just wrote, but it is different for children. Many parents of my younger clients have noticed how bedtime journaling has improved family relationships and helped their children to find solutions to everyday problems that they were completely unaware of. It is so important to create a safe space for your child to open up about problems rather than keep them bottled up as children often do. It gives you both the chance to talk through and find solutions to problems or reassure children that whilst they may have worries and things don’t always turn out exactly as we might have hoped, there is always a solution to any challenge. It also reminds them that there is still so much that is great about life and if you do this at bedtime, it helps them to go to sleep feeling positive and looking forward to the future, rather than worrying about things or feeling anxious.
I hope this post has inspired you to start your own gratitude journal or jar. You may not notice the difference overnight, but try it for at least the next month and see how you feel at the end of it. Please let me know what you discovered. If you follow my FB page, I will post some gratitude prompts every evening to help inspire and remind you (and me!) Please feel free to come and comment and share your happy moments with us all. You might inspire someone else. I am very grateful to you for reading my blog post. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!