It may be the wisdom that naturally comes with age, increased life experiences, or the constantly evolving positive mindset that I’ve been working on for years now. But, lately, I’ve been particularly attuned to the thoughts of gratitude that run through my mind on a daily basis. Even more surprising, is that it is not a deliberate thing like I thought it needed to be. I don’t need to set aside time to write down or actively think about what I am grateful for…it just sort of happens. For example, the day after a migraine, I wake up thinking about how good my body feels from head to toe. I feel genuinely appreciative that I am no longer in pain. Another example is when our entire family gets up and out of the house in the morning without any drama or aggravation. As I drive my daughters to school, I notice that my head is clear and my heart isn’t racing. I feel at ease and relish the sense of calm in my body. These things may be simple. But I am so grateful for them.
You might be wondering what I did to get to this place of gratitude. As mentioned, it wasn’t a daily practice (as is recommended by gratitude experts and people like me). It wasn’t an aha moment or a brush with poor health that made me “see the light.” Actually, I couldn’t have answered where it came from until I began packaging lessons I wrote and facilitated with children for teachers to use in schools. As I reviewed one lesson after another, and prepped the activities, I noticed how much overlap there is with the life skills taught in each lesson. For example, trying new things, problem solving, and perseverance are all skills that overlap and build upon each other. When you take a minute to think about it, the steps you need to take in order to strengthen just one of these life skills naturally encompasses the others. So once you start paying attention to or actively trying to improve just one of these things, it’s like a domino effect. All of the other things start to fall into place. And that’s what happened to me with gratitude.
Let me explain the two areas I was deliberately working on, and how it naturally led me to be more grateful.
Years ago, I noticed that my go-to way of processing events, thinking about them, and responding was negative. Of course, I didn’t love this about myself and actually beat myself up for it time and time again. In my quest to learn how to change this behavior, I learned that there was a neurological reason. Negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. Psychologists refer to this asnegative bias. Naturally, it can have impact behavior, decision-making and even relationships. Yay, there wasn’t something wrong with me. Yay again because what I saw as a terrible habit was apparently something that most people also did.
Regardless of what science says, I desperately wanted to gain the ability to see things in a more positive light. Not only that, I wanted it to be instinctual. But I assumed that would never happen since I was pretty much stuck in my ways: exhibit A on my sense of negativity!! But it seemed my persistence won out. I was compelled to try.
I had already taken the first step, becoming aware of the problem. Next, I began gaining insight by catching myself thinking negatively in various different contexts. Each time, I tried to reframe my thinking in order to see the positive. This process gradually got quicker and easier. Without even realizing it at first, I was beginning to shift my mindset in a way where (in most situations) I was first able to recognize the positive before worrying about the negatives. I think this shift really hit me after I had a bicycle accident which left me with some broken bones and facial lacerations. I kept marveling at the fact that, even though I was pretty banged up, the accident didn’t result in any serious, life-threatening injuries. I thought about how the accident actually couldn’t have happened at a better time (although there is never a perfect time for an unfortunate accident). But, thankfully, I wasn’t going to visit my daughters at sleepaway camp until three weeks later, so all they would see was a cast-they wouldn’t realize how bad the accident was. Also, I was excited about the fact that after I had healed, there would still be quite a few weeks of summer that I could still enjoy. This was quite a change for me. I was so happy, and admittedly proud of myself, for reacting with such a positive frame of mind.
More recently, I made a concerted effort to be present, to live in the moment. Most people would call this mindfulness (I think being present is more fitting and descriptive in this case). I began practicing every morning while walking in the woods with my dog. Throughout the day, I would also try to catch myself when my mind and/or actions wandered from the conversation or task at hand. I tried my best to focus on one thing at a time. The more I practiced the more progress I made (as is the case with most things in life). Each time I noticed success, it fueled me to continue striving for more.
Now, you might be wondering what being positive and mindful has to do with being grateful. When you find something positive in a negative situation, it’s hard not to be grateful for having even that one small thing that wasn’t bad. And the same holds true with mindfulness. When you stop and check in with yourself, you take notice of how you’re feeling and all that surrounds you. And you can’t help but notice all of the good. That leads you to realize that you have a lot to be grateful for.
So if you don’t think you have time in your day to integrate a gratitude practice, or simply are not inclined to do so (for whatever reason), start with being mindful or looking for the positive way. You might be pleasantly surprised at all of the good that stems from it.
On the other hand, if you are interested in practicing gratitude on a regular basis, click here for 5 ideas to get you started.