How I made gratitude a daily practice
This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to reflect and realise how fortunate we have been, even if at first pass we don’t feel that fortunate! However why do we wait for annual celebrations before we give ourselves the gift of feeling grateful?
The impact of positive emotions on our quality of life is well understood as is their ability to improve our performance at work or in sport. So how do we feel positive emotions daily? Here I share my journey to the daily practice of gratitude, what I've learnt and how I do it.
There was a time in my life when I was deeply frustrated, striving for success working every hour imaginable, plus a few more, in the quest for the next thing that I thought was sure to bring me satisfaction or happiness.
I spent my entire time looking up, towards those who had more than me…more status, more money, more cars, more houses, more stuff! I worked incredibly hard to be like those who travelled further, more often and more comfortably. I was driven by a sense of lack, or more frankly not feeling good enough when I compared myself to others.
My personal perfect storm
During the depths of the global financial crisis in 2009, like many people I lost a lot of stuff. Selling the company I worked for resolved the problems faced by the company, but it meant I had to give up my job. At the same time in my personal perfect storm I lost my home and many other things as my marriage broke up. I lost several great relationships with friends and family through both the challenges at work and home. In global terms of suffering, I appreciate this is a light drizzle, but at the time it felt stormy.
I had played a part in those losses; I was not a helpless victim by any means. I made choices, some for the benefit of others and some for me. All those choices had consequences. Through acknowledging and accepting my part of the responsibility in all the events that unfolded, the anger faded and the clouds cleared.
Look at different perspectives
Simultaneously with properly accepting full responsibility for my life, I realised I had a tremendous opportunity. I had the opportunity to reflect on my life to date and see it from many different perspectives. I realised that despite my first world woes I had an enormous amount to be grateful for. When compared to the majority of the world, I was very fortunate indeed. In fact regardless of comparison I still had much to be thankful for. This was a most powerful insight.
I realised I had achieved many of the things I had dreamt of, had amazing experiences but more over I had my health, my parents and some of the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I was safe, lived in a free country without threat and unlike many people I knew, I was not suffering.
Noticing what you actually have
Inspired by many people around me including my parents and friends, I slowly but surely began to notice what I had, instead of what I didn’t have. Noticing turned into appreciation, which turned into gratitude as I reflected deeply on how fortunate I really was.
Through the guidance of my coach and the amazing team at Complete Coherence, I used the skills they taught me to turn the epiphany I’d had into a daily practice of gratitude.
I wrote a list of all the experiences and things I was grateful for. I read it everyday and whenever I needed a boost. These ranged from the simplest things food, water and shelter, to the greatest gifts e.g. life, health, laughter, compassion and family. I added to it each time I noticed something else. Reviewing this list regularly really helped change my perspective about my situation and myself.
If you want some inspiration on what could go on your list, please watch my favourite TED talk of all time - gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg
I created a photo album of all the people, places, experiences and things I was grateful for. I used this as a screen saver on my computer and TV at home. It makes me smile every time I see it. The photos of people are always when they are smiling – it makes me smile when I see them. The photos act as a reminder of the great people I have spent time with and the things I have had the fortune to experience.
Life as practice
I began to use the transitions in everyday life as a practice. In my morning shower I would practice appreciation of the warm clean water. As I put my contact lenses in I would be grateful that I had eyes to use. As I picked up my first coffee of the day I would give thanks for the gift of food and drink. I have many such practices focused around different transitions during the day.
I am extremely grateful to all those who have helped me on my journey, shared their wisdom and taught me valuable lessons along the way. Without their help I would not appreciate all that I do now, nor would I appreciate the wonderful life I live now. Thank you all, I am so very grateful.
The benefits of practicing positive emotions on a regular basis have been many and varied. I have more energy, I have a job I love and a very healthy work/life balance. The greatest benefit though, has been finding an amazing partner in Sue, who I am so grateful for and delighted to be marrying in December.
When I’m asked what I want for Christmas, my family chuckle when I reply “world peace”. Imagine if we all gave ourselves and each other, the gift of gratitude, how much anger and frustration could melt away. Imagine how much closer we could get to realising that goal. So during this holiday season I urge you to begin to make gratitude more than an annual event, make it a daily practice.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.