“May we never let the things we can’t have, or don’t have, or shouldn’t have, spoil our enjoyment of the things we do have and can have. As we value our happiness let us not forget it. For one of the greatest lessons in life is learning to be happy without the things we cannot or should not have.”
~ Richard L. Evans (U.S. writer, 1906-1971)
Is there anything you want so badly right now that you feel as though you’re lacking something and have lost sight of all the wonderful thigs you already have?
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d write about gratitude this month. Richard L. Evans’ quotation is a powerful reminder of the power of being thankful for what we have. As Melodie Beattie put it in her book, More Language of Letting Go, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
The power of being thankful
Neuroscience is demonstrating that gratitude has extremely powerful positive effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. It releases negative emotions, reduces pain, improves sleep, helps reduce stress, and helps with anxiety and depression! Gratitude stimulated the reward system in our brains and can “re-wire” it to make us feel happier. This article in Positive Psychology offers a lot of research-based examples of how and why gratitude affects us.
Bringing more gratitude into your life
It’s easy to find things to be grateful for when things are going well, but it can be really tough when life is filled with challenges. But it’s exactly at these times – when things aren’t going well – that finding things to be thankful for works its magic.
Like anything else, building a habit of finding gratitude can take some practice, but it doesn’t have to take long or be difficult. A simple practice it to keep a gratitude journal:
- Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed. When you wake up in the morning, write down three things you’re grateful for – a warm bed, the beauty of the bird song outside your window, the cat purring at your feet – whatever they might be. This will warm your brain up for seeking the positives throughout your day.
- When you go to bed, pause to reflect on your day, and write down three things from it that you’re grateful for.
- You don’t have to use a journal. Simply taking the time to reflect with gratitude works; however, reviewing a gratitude journal can be extremely helpful when you’re struggling with life’s challenges.
This simple practice offers several benefits. It slows us down a bit and makes us consider our day. With continued practice, we come to view the people, activities, and things in our day through the lens of gratitude and end up discovering an ever-growing number of moments of appreciation – often for things we experience every day but take for granted.
The things we find gratitude in can be large, but it’s often little things that bring the most joy: the passing waft of a beautiful flower smell, a smile from a stranger, the taste of the first sip of your morning coffee or tea. It can be difficult sometime to come up with anything, but there’s always something for us we Canadians to be thankful for. For example, if you find yourself feeling hungry and getting irritated by that, consider that you’ve likely never experienced the true, starvation-hunger that so many around the world live every day. Simply keeping in mind that we have a roof over our heads, potable water coming from our taps, and eyes that allow us to read these words are profound yet often overlooked.
Building experiences to be thankful for
If you gather for Thanksgiving, take a moment to lead a round-table on gratitude before eating. This exercise makes many people feel surprisingly uncomfortable. Lead the way towards comfort by offering a few things, large or small, that you’re grateful for. You should have plenty of them to work with if you start practicing today!
Pleasant experiences, especially those shared with others, are wonderful opportunities to be thankful. These can be free, such as watching a stunning sunset, dancing in a warm summer rain, or quietly admiring the beauty of a full moon. Others can be built on activities, such as developing a hand puppet show with a (grand)child, hanging a wind chime and making a practice of stopping to listen to it for a minute or two when the breeze blows, or setting up and maintaining a bird feeder and taking in the beauty of the birds that use it.