Take a minute right now to close your eyes and think of three things that happened today about which you can feel and express gratitude. Take your time. Maybe you’re still waking up, just getting your morning social media and coffee fix. You may be well into your day and it will require some mental work to twist the things of your day into things to express gratitude about. Whatever your situation, wherever you are, just close your eyes for a minute and think about what makes you grateful for today. Try to get a little deeper than “Well, I didn’t actually hit anyone at work” or “I can be glad that at least no one did X to me”. Think, and feel and appreciate. . .
Take another quick minute to jot them down.
How do you feel?
Relaxed? Joyful? Ready to tackle the rest of the day or whatever tomorrow has in store? Does your pulse feel a little slower, a little more even? Do you feel a little more accomplished about your day? Maybe like there are now a few more items in the “Things that are good about today” column?
I just thought with you and I can tell you that now there’s a content and optimistic little smile on my face. Whatever ideas may have been in my mind about today; I now have a great sense of all the beautiful moments that filled it. The taste of my mother’s delicious blueberry pie. Laughing with my family over one of the many jokes we made throughout the day. Enjoying the company of people who share my beliefs and interests.
What you focus on, you magnify.
What you think about increases. What you talk about becomes more prevalent. If you spend time thinking about something your brain will latch onto it and look for more. Don’t believe me? This week every time you check the time, think about how nice it would be to have some cake. Report back to me on whether or not there was an increase in cake in your life.
For some reason our brains seem to have a natural tendency to dwell on negatives. Whether that’s because of environmental influences like our upbringing, education, and the media, or it’s because our brain is particularly tuned in to look for things that may kill us; at least from what I can tell the immediate response of most people is to speak, think and feel negative emotions.
But why do it? What good does it do to think back on the things that went wrong in your day and recount just how terrible it all was? Does it greatly benefit you to think about how awful things were? Do you feel better after a session of sitting with yourself and moping about how dreadful things are and how they’ll never get better?
I’ll admit, telling someone else about the challenging things that happen in our daily lives can be kind of satisfying, and at times therapeutic. But does anything really change and improve? People will continue to cut you off in traffic, baristas will still write “Bekah” even though you’re obviously “Becca”. Men will continue to relate to you as only men can, and women will continue to eye you up and down when you walk into a room. And if the best coping strategy we’ve developed is to store those things up until our next session with our girlfriends then the cycle is just going to continue.
Now what if you took those things that feel very negative and worthy of your attention, and start a new pattern. Start by taking a break and pulling all of the great things out of the day and recognizing them for the blessings that they are.
Then think all those other things that have a tendency to bother, build up and get us down and think about whether those slights really matter. I usually find that this step alleviates most of the frustration in my life. If I can stop for a second and think about the person who just cut me off in traffic I realize that the time it cost me is 100% inconsequential and my fretting over their lack of manners will never amount to anything, aside from taxing my brain. Instead of getting more and more frustrated I can take a minute, think, and try to infuse some gratitude and joy into the experience. I can’t even tell you how absolutely freeing it is to be able to let go of all those petty infractions that our brains have a way of accumulating over the day. The more you practice turning challenges into gratitude and joy in your brain, the more naturally it happens, and you’ll constantly enjoy the benefits.
Now, what if you took a minute and thought about the other situations of the day and were grateful for the ways in which you grew because of them, or the things that you learned to use the next time that happens?
Let’s take something that feels a little heftier than someone cutting you off. To keep this chat genuine and honest I’ll give you one of mine;) A couple of weeks ago I overheard some ladies at the office talking and laughing about my health choices. Of course, health and wellness are important to me so I immediately wanted to go tell someone about my hurt and exasperation. (I kind of wanted to bust into their conversation and say something clever and witty too, but alas, nothing came to mind before my brain talked me out of it.) Thankfully I have some practice in turning challenges into gratitude and joy, and I had a whole rhetoric ready for this situation- I’m confident in the habits they were mocking so I didn’t have to waste any time internalizing what they were saying. My brain reminded me that nothing that they say can affect me without my investing in the shade they’re trying to throw. Thankfully I was able to pretty quickly turn my perspective from feeling belittled, to seeing those ladies as people who are where I used to be, making fun of something that they don’t understand in an area in which they aren’t yet empowered and educated. It took going thorough this process a few times, but now I can say that I’m grateful for this experience because it reminded me that I’m doing something outside the norm, and making choices for my health regardless of what others think. Thought, gratitude and discipline have enabled me to make something that could have had drastically detrimental impact on my work environment and feelings, into something that has a positive impact on my life.
It’s a simple example of a complex concept. But the truth is there.
It won’t be every day that your significant other ignores you, you spill coffee on your blouse, and your dog runs away and you’ll need to search for gratitude to keep you from finding yourself in a funk. But every day you can take five minutes and think and feel appreciation for some things that went your way. Every day you can practice gratitude for all the things in your life. The things coming in, the things on the way out, the things that feel amazing and perfect and wonderful and the things that feel hard, unwanted and heavy. The more you practice it in the little things, like free cookies, and fresh sheets, the easier it is in the monumental things like losing your job or having long anticipated plans fall through.
Your life is up to you.
What you focus on you magnify. You get to decide whether that’s excellence, gratitude and love, or frustration, disappointment and hate. That’s serious power. Use it.
I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for today!! Leave some things you’re grateful for in the comments…
*This is such a huge topic, and we could easily spend days unravelling all the health benefits, mental impact and life lessons of gratitude, but this is a start. If you want to dig deeper this TEDtalk is a great jumping off point.