Gratitude

The Practice of Gratitude

Gratitude is much in vogue. Seems like every talk that I go to people talk about it. There is often a puzzled look in the people I talk to when I say I practice gratitude every day. ‘What do you mean?’ many dare say. Others just stare in disbelief that someone so practical like me would spend any time on something so esoteric.

How I started Gratitude

I am no longer clear on when exactly we started. But I got into it through a WhatsApp group of 2 like-minded friends that decided to get going. I took advantage of herd mentality and peer pressure to engage. I did not know much about gratitude and why it would be good for us. But my friends were positive on it and I was willing to embrace new things. Every day we committed to sending each other at least 3 things we were grateful in our day. The group is reaching 2 years old and to this date, we have kept its original name: Sharing.  

My daily gratitude – what is it?

I started like most people, not knowing what to share. What type of things should be in there? (oh the word should again). How much would I really share? I am close and open with my friends but I did wonder what I would do in the bad days, as I was never a big sharer of bad news.

Funny enough, I had nothing to worry about. Gratitude is all about finding the good in your day, so if you are having a bad day you don’t need to even talk about the negative, you need only to focus on the good things that happened.

Is it about masking feelings then? Not at all, it is rather about finding good small things in the middle of a nasty day, even if that means a cup of good coffee (assuming you like coffee).

So you have a support group?

It could be called that, but it is not why I still practice gratitude. The group helped it develop into a habit, no doubt. And hi seeing each other’s expressions of gratitude no doubt made us more aware. It also reminded us if we were late…

The group developed into a true sharing ground where a gratitude mindset was at the core but support for each other was what really mattered. There was never judgement of those not sharing gratitudes but rather concern if they were ok, or just too busy to write. It is a group that does not judge or expects, but rather is there. Unlike many other friendships. I guess it was time I paid it the due tribute in how it changed my life and in so many ways kept me away from isolation.

So what are these gratitudes?

Today, I have moved my gratitudes to my bullet journal and established a morning routine with them. They are part of what I do. I may not do them every day, but I do rarely fail to go through a day. If 2-3 days go by where I did not find 5 minutes for myself to write them down, I then know it is time to do it.

I follow the rule of 3, where I try and find at least 3 things to be grateful for. Many blissful days, I go to 5, but I always try and not be too expansive. It is in the end about the little things that you notice different, the people that go out of their way, the surprising moment that made you smile. It is not just repeating the same old ‘grateful for health or food’. Don’t get me wrong, I have all that, and I am grateful for it. But as a privileged person I am grateful for more mundane things – a dinner with friends, a special conversation with Little Girl C, a date night with Hubby B, a chapter in a book that called my attention, a meeting that went particularly well.

So it is only nice and easy stuff?

Not really. As you will see in the research bits I share below, gratitude was shown to be valuable not only for mentally fit individuals but also for those struggling. In fact, it is on a bad day that is most important to keep at it. Some days I do really have to think hard to find a tiny thing. Or I have to find the least bad thing. When Baby S was in the hospital, I was grateful for small improvements, a new medication, or just friend’s messages and support. In days when work gets tough and it is hard to make progress, I am grateful for my team being there, for my boss supporting me, or for something new that I got to do, even if it was da** hard. When things get bitter, I am grateful for the ability to reconnect and communicate.

It is also helpful to deal with your friend’s adversity. We had plenty of it last year, and those are the moments where you are indeed grateful for the gift of health and life, for having healthy children, for having both our parents, for being able to afford to fly anywhere in the world to be there for someone who needs us there and then.

I believe in the benefits

I hope you get by now how much I got to believe in the gratitude practice. As always happens when I write (and why I love writing), I got to find a few more things about myself, including why I believe in gratitude. There are probably hundreds of articles around, but my 50 cents are here for those that made it this far:

  • Showing gratitude is an initially forced way to take a more positive approach to life. I was historically not the glass half full person, but through the practice of gratitude, it is no longer about the glass being full, but rather about everything else around the empty glass;
  • Showing gratitude provides perspective. In tough days, the thought of finding 3 things to be grateful for can be ironic and feel even cynical. But the activation of those thoughts can come a long way in providing perspective on what was otherwise an all dark day;
  • Showing gratitude requires us to stop. In a moment for myself, which I admit there are not a lot of, I stop and think about my day, about what happened the previous day, what did I do and who did I speak to. It has brought with it a much bigger mindfulness about how each of my days looks like and what the prevalent factors are.

A side story: gratitude in children

Late last year, Little Girl C struggled with anger and high anxiety. The tantrums reached a whole new level that we did not expect at age 5. I was personally overwhelmed with sadness of how angry she felt at life. I really suffered to think that I was unable to help her with expressing her emotions. There was nothing more important to me than teaching her kindness towards life. But she was angry.

My friend Mina brought to me the Happy Self journal, a “daily journal to help children to promote happiness, develop positive habits and nurture enquiring minds”. At its core is the practice of gratitude.

5 months in, Little Girl C is hooked. We do it 5 to 6 days a week, without pressure, and most importantly with enjoyment. The more I reserve time to do it in peace, the more fun we have with it and, more importantly, the more she is likely to stop and pick what really mattered to her that day. It gives her an opportunity to stop and reflect. Sometimes she needs help to remember what happened in her day. Sometimes I get frustrated that she did not pick me baking scones for her as a top one. It has taught me so much about her and what she values, and just as important, it has also taught her about the concept of choosing what she really values as, with exceptions, I only let her pick 3.

I know that having a special time to do something together was half of the story. But it is something that I am extremely grateful for. She is more and more back to her normal self. Whenever I feel she needs an extra hand, we just spend a few more minutes on it and talking about it. It does wonders.

I am sold. How do I start?

There is no rule to practising gratitude. You can just grab your closest pen and paper and start right now. I can share some easy steps that I found helped me along the way:

Make it a routine

The benefits of gratitude take a while to show. As I said, it may all feel a bit cynical in the beginning. So you start doing it as a new routine. Just go with the herd and believe the science and stick it out for a few weeks. Come up with the time of the day that works for you. Some people like to end their day with meditation and gratitude. I find that my mind needs a break before processing my day, so 90% of the times I will do them in the morning, on my way to work. It is my transition into the world. I also find that it sets me off in the right mood for the day;

Enjoy it

It is a key recommendation in the Atomic Habits book that making something easy and enjoyable makes it easier to establish a new habit. So this reinforces the previous point. If you are a paper and pen person, then chose a nice journal to do it. If you are an email person, just email it to yourself. Whatever keeps you going;

Don’t judge

Start with little things and don’t worry about whether you are doing it right. It is an experiment and, as such, there is no right or wrong, but only outcomes. There are no stupid things to be grateful for. And there should be no concept of guilt that you are not always grateful for food and health. Let’s assume you are every day grateful for that, but this is a space for you to express more about the small things in life that you learn to appreciate;

Get an accountability partner

You may or may not chose to share with other people, it is completely up to you. I find that, in the beginning, sharing gratitude can be a really good way to have an accountability partner. Recently, I have started helping a friend implementing a practice of daily gratitude and I make a point about asking her. I don’t do it with judgement, but rather because I know some of us may need a special nudge in the beginning. I have no doubt that in time, she will be hooked, but in the end, there is nothing wrong with getting a little hand. An alternative is to just tell someone you will do it (but not share). People who tell others about their goals are more likely to achieve them.

The Research of Gratitude

According to the Harvard Medical, “The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible”. There is an increasing level of research on gratitude and the impact it has on happiness. Most studies support an association between gratitude and an individual’s wellbeing.

To avoid my suspected bias on Harvard Research, Berkeley has also put out an article on “How Gratitude Changes you and Your Brain“, which conducted a study on adults who were already seeking mental health counselling. The results suggest that individuals who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health 4 weeks and 12 weeks after their exercise ended. The study goes on to discuss what is that may create this effect in gratitude but my favourite part has to be that scans show a different brain activity for those who are grateful.

Shilpa and Teeba, I dedicate this article to you, my gratitude buddies.

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

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