By Mizgin –
Gratitude is described as “the quality or feeling of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” We’ve all heard about the ‘power of gratitude’ and the power of thinking and feeling positive thoughts and emotions.
Yet, what exactly does it mean to be more grateful, and does practicing gratitude really make a difference? I was also asking myself the same questions, so I decided to find out.
I was personally going through a very tough time a couple of years ago when I came across an image on social media, which encouraged me to try actively practicing gratitude. It claimed that we could “rewire” our brains to be happier in 21 days if we recalled 3 things we were grateful for every day. At this moment in time, I was feeling very down and depressed. It had been days since I had last slept or eaten properly. I felt like I was back on a relapse and my migraine was awful. I was desperately searching for a way to be happy again. In some ways, I now think I was looking for a way to ‘fix’ myself.
Upon seeing the image, despite my cynicism, I thought — what’s there to lose? Why not give it a go? And maybe it was out of pure desperation; I did exactly what the photo said. I mentally (and sometimes verbally!) recalled 3 things I was grateful for everyday and made a note of it every single time. I even set an alarm on my phone and made sure it was during my lunch break at work. Two years on, I now keep a gratitude journal and frequently write in it.
So, here’s what happens when we do practice gratitude on a daily basis…
During the first few days, we might feel like it’s a little forceful — I felt like this at first. It may even seem like a desperate attempt to ignore our emotions of unhappiness or resentment. However, we need to keep going. These feelings, I found, are a natural part of the process.
Now, I don’t know whether it was because I was desperate and couldn’t think of anything else, or whether it was just meant to happen, but I started to recall simple things that we take for granted on a daily basis. For instance, I started saying things like, “I’m grateful for having food to eat today” and “I’m grateful to see my friends this evening.” I started noticing the simple things that I had not been previously acknowledging. I kept repeating them to myself over and over again. I knew I had to keep going; I didn’t know what else to do. Looking back in hindsight, I think I felt as if that was my only chance of being happy again. I was so desperate to ‘fix’ myself that I just went with it day in, day out. I think the magic lies in the perseverance – in constantly verbalising and noticing our gratitude every day. Remember; it’s a process.
During this ‘gratitude journey’, we start to think about the things that truly matter to us — things we often take for granted. We notice the simple things such as: food; shelter; our families and our jobs. Maybe we notice these because we are desperate for it to work and to be happy (this is how I felt and how I wanted to ‘fix’ myself). Or maybe we gradually recognise and acknowledge these things because we are genuinely grateful for them. I don’t really know, but we definitely start noticing them more frequently and more significantly. Personally, I think I started recalling things out of desperation at first. Yet, I also believe that there is power in repetition and perseverance. Once I started verbalising my gratitude towards these simple things and repeated them relentlessly, I actually started feeling grateful and thankful for them. Truly and deeply.
After this phase, I think we start to realise that actually, it’s not so much our current circumstances that make us unhappy, but our views of our circumstances. Once we start to recall things we are grateful for every day, we start to recognise that we do have things to be happy about and maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are. Also, repeating these on a daily basis helps reaffirm this belief and in turn, leaves us feeling even more thankful and happier. Again, I think it was the power of repetition that worked for me; respecting the process and being patient with it.
The part that I loved the most — and I’m sure we all will — is that this practice of gratitude gradually turns into a habit after about 14-15 days. It becomes something that we just do. Something that we engage in throughout the entire day. We begin to notice even more things that make us happy and we feel thankful for them. We further recognise the abundance around us and the vast amount of things we can be grateful for. I think this is because we are so used to complaining about our lives, that engaging with gratitude and verbalising it offers our minds a different perspective. We can think of it as breaking free from the cycle of complaining. We actively make space for gratitude and thus, happiness.
Besides, as the process alters our way of thinking, even in negative circumstances and difficult situations, we start noticing the positive elements. For example, if something goes wrong throughout the day, we can see a funny side to it, or try to take a positive lesson from it. Gratitude starts to reshape our views, our perceptions of our circumstances and helps us reconsider our responses so that they’re much calmer and more positive. Good and grateful thoughts lead to good feelings and good emotions. I like to think of it as a ‘cycle of positivity’; feed your mind happy thoughts and feel happier as a result. It works.
So, it’s been two years since I’ve started my daily practice of gratitude. It has changed my way of thinking and made me feel much better about my circumstances and my life in general. I keep a note of it in what I call a ‘gratitude journal’ as an opportunity to reflect on the day and also to set mindful intentions for the next day. When I’m feeling a little down, I open it up and read some of the positive memories and notes I’ve made in there. It’s a wonderful reminder of the good things in life. Give it a go — what’s there to lose?