NSLAP WELLNESS TIP: An attitude of gratitude – Seeing your world with new eyes

The following article is from Homewood Human Solutions™, your health and wellness provider. 

Do you start out the New Year making resolutions to improve your life? Typically the beginning of the year is a time when we take stock, and then strive to move forward to improve ourselves. However, there are also benefits to taking a step back to look at how far we have come and how we have so much in our lives to be thankful for. 

Scientists have studied the numerous health benefits of gratitude and have concluded that those of us who take the time to appreciate what we have, and how much others have contributed to our success and wellbeing, tend to be happier, less envious of others and more resilient. In children, higher levels of gratitude are linked to higher grades, less materialism and fewer complaints of headaches and stomach aches. By adopting an attitude of gratitude, we can positively change our outlook on life and live a happier, healthier and more satisfying existence. Consider adopting some of the following techniques and practices to help cultivate gratitude in your daily life. 

Keep a gratitude journal

A simple technique for counting one’s blessings is to keep a gratitude journal in which we record what we are most grateful for on a daily basis. This technique has been proven to increase happiness because it helps us to focus on the sources of goodness in our lives, regardless of the daily challenges we face. 

There is no right way to journal – you simply need a notebook and pen. For those who are more technologically savvy, there is a gratitude journaling app available. Set aside ten minutes at either the start or end of your day for thoughtful reflection. Be as specific as possible when recording your thoughts. Try to avoid repeating the content of your daily entries. If you write “my dog, my home and my children” every day, you will lose the benefits of this practice. The point is to be present and conscious while taking time to reflect on your blessings.

It may be difficult for some to think of things to write, but researchers into gratitude have noted that once you begin to look for things in your life to be grateful for, you will begin to see them everywhere. The most important thing is to just get started! 

Pay someone special a gratitude visit 

Martin Seligman, a leader in the field of Positive Psychology, suggests that one of the best ways to foster gratitude is to pay a “gratitude visit”. To do this, think of someone who has made (or makes) a major difference in your life, but whom you’ve never properly thanked. Once you have someone in mind, write a detailed letter to him or her that expresses your appreciation in concrete terms. Then pay this individual a visit, but do not reveal the purpose of the visit in advance. Read your letter aloud, face to face, while making eye contact. This technique can be extremely emotional and rewarding for both the recipient and the giver. 

Ask yourself three questions 

A Buddhist meditation technique called Naikan (which translates to “looking inside”) invites us to reflect upon three questions: “What have I received from…?”; “What have I given to…?”; and “What troubles and difficulty have I caused…?” 

This activity is helpful in addressing issues or difficulties in relationships. By allowing us to become more objective in our subjective view of daily experiences, it helps us to release unnecessary resentments and discover positive feelings of gratitude towards individuals who have helped and supported us.

Remember the bad

It may seem counter-intuitive to remember the bad things that have happened in our lives as a technique for cultivating gratitude, however, experiences that appear to be “clouds” often have “silver linings”. As unpleasant as things appeared at the time, when looking back we can see how they have helped us. We can feel gratitude for the lessons learned and for the support we received from family and friends. Over time, we can look at these negative experiences in a different light, and perhaps even include them on our gratitude lists.

Use positive language 

The words we use have a direct impact on how we perceive and interpret life. Negative words have been proven to create feelings of sadness whereas positive words can help to bring us out of a bad mood. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We become what we think about all day long.” This certainly applies to gratitude. Using positive language such as “gift”, “blessed”, “fortunate” and “abundance” support our efforts to become more grateful. Words such as “regret”, “lack”, “need”, “loss” and “deservingness” have the opposite effect. Repeating sentences such as “I have so much to be grateful for” or “My life is truly blessed” helps us to stay positive and receptive to the many gifts in our lives. 

Benefits to having an attitude of gratitude

  • increased life satisfaction 
  • more energy 
  • better sleep 
  • bolstered immunity 
  • lowered stress levels 
  • improved social connections 
  • greater empathy 
  • more optimistic 
  • less materialistic 

Use visual reminders 

Forgetfulness and a lack of awareness are two of the largest barriers to living a life of gratitude. Visual reminders at home and at work help to support our efforts to sustain a mindset of thankfulness. Here are some suggestions for visual aids: 

  • Set an alarm on your cell or computer to go off at random times to remind you to take a minute to pause and count your blessings. 
  • Leave Post-it note reminders in various spots around your home or office. 
  • Create a collage of what you are thankful for and put this in a prominent place in your home or on your desk. 
  • Create a thank-you tree on your fridge – then each day, you and your family members can add sticky notes with something that you are grateful for. 

A dedicated practice for cultivating gratitude will deliver the greatest benefits. Developing the habit of reflecting upon what you are thankful for each day requires very little time, no financial investment and it can improve your energy levels and life satisfaction. Albert Clarke said, “In our daily lives we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but the gratefulness that makes us happy.” If you decide to cultivate a sense of gratitude, you may find it to be one of the best resolutions you will ever make.

For more information and support on finding gratitude, along with resources and counseling in other life topics, visit the NSLAP website at www.nslap.ca. Please note that NSLAP is your “company” name when you register. When you call the NSLAP number at 1-866-299-1299 (Français: 1-866-398-9505; TTY: 1-888-384-1152), your call will be answered any time, day or night, 365 days per year.