A few weeks ago I was delighted to be invited to speak at a Health and Wellbeing event for a group of 20 women beginning a 60 Day Challenge - a program designed to reset fitness levels and empower participants to focus on rejuvenating their body, mind and spirit. My task was to share with them some of my insights on the power of a regular Gratitude practice as a simple tool to improve overall levels of peace and happiness.
Gratitude, like Mindfulness, is a term and concept that’s become increasingly trendy over the last few years and the benefits of its practice are regularly written about in a variety of mainstream newspapers, magazines and blogs.
And yet the effectiveness of Gratitude on mental health and wellbeing has yet to be fully embraced by society in general and remains clouded in a fair degree of scepticism and cynicism, which is a view I feel strongly about trying to reverse - hence the focus of my talk. As mentioned by several in the audience that day, it seems almost too good to be true that a simple practice of appreciation could have the ability to raise happiness levels to such an extent that everyday life suddenly becomes a much more beautiful and enjoyable experience. After all, isn’t that what a glass of wine is for?!
My own lust for life and general levels of excitement and joy have changed quite dramatically over the last 3 years, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I now feel like a completely different person. And similar to a regular exercise regime to keep my body fit and strong, there are a number of tools I’ve incorporated into my daily routine to keep my mind healthy and my happiness levels higher and more consistent than they ever were before.
What works well for me is to ensure that:-
I have a daily meditation practice
I choose activities that are fun and make me feel good
I set clear goals and intentions for my life
And that I dedicate time each day to focus on what I’m grateful for
Out of all of these practices, Gratitude was the first one I adopted and it’s definitely an easy one to begin with and incorporate into your routine.
About 3 years ago, after reading about Gratitude and noticing the word pop up almost every place I turned for a few weeks in a row, it felt like I couldn’t escape the signs any longer and I decided to give it a try. I confess though that similar to the women from the 60 Day Challenge group, I was also initially sceptical and wondered how this slightly ‘cheesy’ sounding activity could make any long lasting difference to my mood and how I viewed the world.
I began my new regime by simply thinking of 3 things that I was grateful for when I woke up in the morning and another 3 things before I went to sleep at night. Nothing fancy, and nothing detailed, my observations were simple items of appreciation, like my health, my family and having a nice place to live. As I stuck with the practice over the course of a month or so however, and it became a conscious habit, I began to notice some subtle but significant changes. Namely that my previously low levels of energy and slightly negative mindset had become more positive and that I was feeling happier than I had been for a long time - with no specific reason attached to the happiness! Day by day my Gratitude lists got longer and longer as I became more sensitive to the beauty around me and my levels of appreciation for all the gifts and abundance in my life increased. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I’d transitioned from hearing like a human to hearing like a dog – I just noticed more around me, which was wonderful and magical to observe!
At this point I changed my routine somewhat and started to write down my Gratitude lists at the end of each day, rather than simply thinking them through. Reviewing the activities of the day like I was watching a movie, and then documenting everything good that had crossed my path that day seemed to make a huge difference, and almost turbo charged the benefit of the gratitude experience. Not only that, but keeping the lists in beautiful jars around my home means that I can tap back into some positivity any time I’m experiencing a bit of a lull and need a reminder of how good life can be.
I’ve been amazed at just how effective and powerful a practice this has become in my life and I’m now extremely emotional and sensitive about what moves me and I feel gratitude for. Sometimes it can be a perfect blue sky sunshiny day whilst I’m driving in my car to my favourite music that affects me, or the smell of a jasmine bush as I walk past first thing in the morning, or the realisation of the amazing love and connection I feel to another human being. All of these things, and many more have the power to move me to tears on a daily basis, and it’s such a beautiful feeling to now be able to connect to my heart in such a deep way and feel a level of appreciation for the simple things in life that I just didn’t notice before.
So my request to you, as it was to the beautiful ladies I spoke to during my talk, is to start your own 60 day Gratitude challenge. Make a commitment to yourself that you want to feel a deeper level of love, joy, connection and happiness and start to write down your own items of appreciation every day for the next two months. I guarantee you’ll be amazed at the impact it has on your life!