For many people, giving thanks is something we do as merely a nod to the thanksgiving tradition. How often do we actually sit and take the time to appreciate the things and people in our lives? More importantly, how often do we appreciate ourselves? It can feelchallenging to focus energy on being thankful when we are suffering. When we are attached to a “story” about all the things in life that aren’t going as planned, we often find ourselves in discontentment, depression, anxiety, fear and negativity. As challenging as it may be to shift our perspective, the pay off may be worth it. More and more research http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude is demonstratingthat gratitude increases feelings of happiness, joy, and compassionand reduces the feeling of isolation that we often feel. But beyond the research, I have witnessed the curative benefits of gratitude within my practice and in my own life. So how do we shift our perspective to one of appreciation and gratitude?
Getting to a place of gratitude can be difficult. Since our minds are wired to have a negative bias, we have to work extra hard at noticing and finding ways to express thankfulness. In full disclosure, I struggled to find gratitude. My “story” (beliefs, thoughts and emotions) was filled with self-criticism, blame, anger and pessimism. Several years ago I had a traumatic physical injury that required multiple surgeries on my left eye which, as a silver lining, allowed me to appreciate the things that I had always taken for granted. I was also moved by the way that my family and friends responded to my crisis. I made a promise to myself that I would try and be more thankful for the “gifts” that I already had. These included simple things like being able to move freely, work and be independent. I also reflected on the “social wealth” I had accrued. I had a loving family and loyal friends. What in life is more important? This is something I remind myself often, not just during the holidays, because it prevents me from going back to a dark place. I have to work at being mindful of my gratitude, and it is no easy task. Below are some tips that may help you find and boost a sense of appreciation and thanks:
Avoid comparisons with other people. Focus on what you are good at keep your attention there. When we look at others as a measuring stick for our own success, we usually end up judging ourselves more harshly.
Eliminate “Should’s, Musts, Have To” from your vocabulary as much as possible. Instead replace with “I can.” This reflects choice and empowerment rather than self-blame.
Create opportunities to give back (this could include giving your time or money, to something you care about). Notice how you feel when you are doing something to help someone else out. Check out this article for more ways giving is good for you.
Give out authentic complements or say thank you and then notice how you feel. Do you feel a sense of appreciation for the person? If so, concentrate on being with this feeling and letting it grow.
Don’t discount or minimize compliments that other people give you. Allow yourself to sit with the compliment even if it’s uncomfortable and be present with it.
For every negative thought about something you haven’t accomplished, remind yourself of something you have done (i.e. I didn’t take out the trash but I did workout). It may help to create a list to remind yourself of the things you have achieved.
Write a letter of thanks (either to yourself or someone else). Some people chose to read the letter aloud to the person they are appreciating.
Notice what you have. We are often so overly focused on what we haven’t yet accomplished. Noticing the small things that we often take for granted (a roof over our heads, food on the table), helps us boost feelings of gratitude.