Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow

Posted on 28 February 2012

Recently I stumbled upon 365grateful.com and this has inspired me to start reflecting on my day for the things I’m grateful for. Hailey from 365Grateful was told by her life coach (a nun) that the secret to happiness was all about reflection and gratitude. Check out the inspiring little clip below.

The way Hailey reflected was to take photographs every day. I have also been taking photos of some of the every day moments and things that I’m grateful for… they are beautiful reminders!! When I look back on them I feel grateful all over again. 🙂 I’ve included some of them throughout this post for you to see.

As you may have seen from Jean’s recent post, we both meditate, try to increase our awareness and presence in our lives. This little gratitude exercise has really helped us on that path. We believe that inner work is our greatest tool in making sense of things.

I have felt a genuine ‘lift’ in my spirits since starting the gratitude project.

Initially, each evening as I reflected on my day I would struggle thinking of things to be grateful for. Then, slowly, I would remember moments from my day. Then, memories, images, moments would flood back to me. As I said them out loud or wrote them down a smile would creep across my face. Realisation. A deep sense of happiness and contentment.

After just a few days of practicing gratitude I realised a greater effect! I had become more present throughout my day. Why? Because I was more aware of these moments I would take more time than usual to look at the beautiful sunset or droplet on a leaf or allow myself to really feel Jean’s hug (for example), also knowing I would reflect on them later.

To be honest, I was shocked by the feeling this practice had induced. Before the project I had already practiced meditation and awareness. I thought I already tried to be more present in life and not take things for granted. But, through practicing, sharing and declaring (through photos, written on paper or to Jean out loud) my gratitude I’ve felt such a huge change in my awareness and happiness. I was really surprised to notice things that normally I would have missed.

Seeing and celebrating the things I am grateful for in my life has affected me in so many ways. With many conversations in life focussing on the heartache, turmoils, irritations and difficulties in life it is easy for those things to become the focus and the good aspects to fade away from the memories. Through sharing my ‘gratefuls’ with others I have seen my friends and family inspired and uplifted which also uplifts me! I feel a deeper sense of appreciation for Jean and how thoughtful and caring his simple every day acts are. I feel more connected to my environment and even the food I eat, often reflecting on its nutrition, who grew it and how it came to be on my table.

What I have realised though is that being grateful is a practice. It’s too easy to slip into complaining and negativity about the small things in life. I really recommend writing grateful moments down, taking photos or saying what you are grateful for out loud. When you just ‘say it in your head’ it often has less impact, gets muddled up with other thoughts and ‘noise’ or you become mentally lazy and stop after declaring one grateful moment to yourself. The reflection moment is important because it has the largest impact.  I’ll give you an example… a couple of weeks ago I was in London, I wasn’t feeling great, I was tired and I got back to my friend’s house when it was late, dark and cold. I walked in and said to my friend ‘ok, I have to do my grateful photo for today’. I realised when I said it that it sounded like a chore but I ignored this and started going through my photos from the day to pick one to post online. After a few minutes looking at these moments from my day and remembering the moments around these snapshots in time I felt light and happy. I posted my photograph and explained to my friend what had just happened… reflection is important and it is a practice. It places gratitude front and centre in my mind and in my heart.

Why does reflecting and being grateful lead to happiness?

As this post says, ‘Something very special happens when you focus your awareness on gratitude. Your mind illuminates. The tension in your body eases up a little bit. The Now becomes free-flowing and a sense of joy unfolds. … Studies have shown that a daily practice of gratitude — where you take time each day to focus on what you are thankful for — increases happiness and well-being, and nurtures a more optimistic outlook. It also reduces the presence of stress and disease in the body. Gratitude affects every layer of our being in a positive way.’

In the below video, psychologist Shawn Achor gives very entertaining talk at TED explaining that happiness inspires productivity. In summary, he says that to create lasting positive change we should do the following:

  • 3 gratitudes a day – doing this every day for 21 days trains your brain to become more positive; the brain maintains the pattern for scanning the world for positive instead of negative
  • journalling – writing down 1 positive experience from the last 24 hours allows your brain to relive it
  • exercise – teaches your brain that your behaviour matters
  • meditation – allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD we’ve been creating by doing multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand
  • random acts of kindness

By following the points listed above, you can train your brain to stop focussing on competition, hassles, workload and complaints.

Shawn describes that it is not the reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views that world that shapes your reality, so by changing the lens you can change your happiness and educational/business outcomes too. The external world is not predictive of our happiness levels, how your brain processes the world is. Therefore, how successful you are at work, for example, is more likely determined by your optimism, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat… not your IQ.

So, why not try practicing gratitude? It can even help you at work.

According to Shawn’s research, raising your level of positivity in the present causes your brain to experience a happiness advantage. Your brain performs better in a positive state than in a negative, neutral or stressed state and your intelligence, creativity and energy rises. Dopamine floods into your system when you are positive, making you happier and turning on all the learning centres in your brain, allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.

Be grateful for yourself

Sometimes we can focus on the external to be happy. On other people, situations and things. It’s important to be grateful for all of these, but also we need to remember to be grateful for ourselves.The experience we live each day is unique to each one of us.

It is up to each individual to become aware of their own sensations and be grateful for them. I can not truly know how you see the world, how you taste your food or how the wind against your skin feels. I know that sometimes I am not very grateful to be me – there always seems to be some body part malfunctioning, hurting or looking unpleasant and I can wish I was prettier or funnier or more interesting. But… this IS me… my body and mind allows me to do incredible things every single day. I’m so grateful for that!! Grateful for the thoughts I can think, the love I can give, the images when I open my eyes, and more.

As a friend of mine reminded me, we can be hard on ourselves and not love ourselves enough, even when we have great capacity to love others. So remember to love yourself as you are, the way you love others in your life. When your friends and family tell you they love you or appreciate you, really try to HEAR them and don’t dismiss them. With practice of gratitude I hope one day I will completely accept my flaws the way my friends accept them. As another friend of mine wisely told me ‘We all love you for your failures as much as your successes because we are proud that you try. In time I hope you see what we see and accept the beauty that is you.’

Remember that you are amazing! Be grateful to experience this life you have in the body you have. 🙂

Need some inspiration?

This article records the most common regrets of the dying. I think if we reflect on these and our own lives, through gratitude, presence and awareness we can ensure we don’t end up having these regrets ourselves:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier. (Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits.)

If you are having a rough day and can’t really think of anything to be grateful for, read this post which lists the top 10 things we take for granted.

Watch this TED talk by Jon Jandai, titled Life is Easy – Why do we make it so hard? He talks about how to simplify your life and how to think about ‘success’.

Watch this beautiful TED TALK on gratitude by master image maker Louie Schwartzberg.  Louie Schwartzberg is an award-winning cinematographer, director and producer who captures breathtaking images that celebrate life – revealing connections, universal rhythms, patterns and beauty. As the write up on TED says: ‘Nature’s beauty can be easily missed — but not through Louie Schwartzberg’s lens. His stunning time-lapse photography, accompanied by powerful words from Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, serves as a meditation on being grateful for every day.’

A Network for Grateful Living, provides education and support for the practice of grateful living, inspiring personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intervene nonviolent conflict resolution and ecological sustainability.

Please join us on Facebook and share what you are grateful for today… and I’m grateful you made it to the end of this post. 🙂


1 Response to Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow

  • […] It seems few have the courage to admit failure and defeat. The “best of intentions” and inspirations with a hefty dose of memory loss and lack of compassion for the way-too-many who are suffering. Everyone has a beef, a history to cull from. We are stuck. There is a pendulum of experience, and it creates an energetic vortex. It would take a lot of people giving things up, a lot of people waking up, and a lot more speaking up, or talking to nuns. […]

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