Transform Your Outlook on Life with One Simple Exercise

Gratitude-Ashwin KC

Gratitude-Ashwin KC

It's no surprise that our modern world is one of constant buzz. Of emails, texts, tweets, appointments, and phone calls. Of sales reports and morning commutes. The stress of our jobs, our spouses, and our health. Diets. Gyms. Routine upon routine. To-do upon to-do. In all of this busy-ness, where do we find time? Any time!? Much less, time for any sort of personal reflection.

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. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
-Melody Beattie

Our time is vied for from the moment we awake to the time we lay our head down at night. Your co-worker is telling you about this new restaurant you just have to try. Your husband called you earlier telling he has a meeting that's running late so you'll need to pick up the kids AND make dinner tonight. Your doctor says to do this. Your therapist says don't do that. Your mother-in-law wants you to do the newest 15-day cleanse with her. With the constant battle to find balance and what is “right” for us, how can the simple act of expressing gratitude transform us a little bit every day? 

In his book “Spontaneous Happiness,” Dr. Andrew Weil discusses making a habit of showing our gratitude (large or small) in the form of a journal. In his book he expands on a study in which participants kept a gratitude journal and were reported as having “mood boosting” effects for 6 months from their daily journaling. I took Dr. Weil's advice, and at the beginning of the year I started my own gratitude and appreciation log. While it isn't as in depth as the full journal, I do take a minute to jot down moments where I was able to express appreciation to those around me, or even moments where I simply took a mental note of gratitude for something. It only takes glancing at that list on a stressful day to remind myself I have an endless amount of things to appreciate in my life.

So what exactly is gratitude, anyway? Sadly, many of us shy away from gratitude because we associate it with an inherent indebtedness to those to whom we are expressing thanks and gratitude. In essence, if we recognize or appreciate, we must pay back the favor “in equal.” It’s an unfortunate thought, and yet I think it is absolutely accurate for most of us. Liken it to passing co-workers in the hall. We ask how they are every day, but part of us hopes their responses are limited to “Great!” or “Good so far!” A response that required further interaction on our part would throw a wrench in our already spoken for day.

Dandelion--Bert Heymans

Dandelion--Bert Heymans

But what if we begin to dissociate that appreciation from people and expand it into other areas of our life? Author G.K. Chesterton writes, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

This is the essence of gratitude. Appreciation. Not a contract to pay back the world. Not something to loathe or avoid but something to fully embrace. And how is this to improve our lives? When we begin to show gratitude we begin to cultivate a sense of other. It’s impossible to recognize the amazing abundance of goodness in our lives every day and not realize that there is more to the dynamic of the human experience than either you or me. Our grip softens by seeing the good. And as our grip loosens, our stress follows suit.

Think it's a struggle just to find the good? At first it may be difficult to find opportunities to express gratitude. Start simple. Someone else made the coffee at work this morning. I woke up in my home, in my bed, and under a roof. I have a computer with which I am able to read this right now. Just those three things are, unfortunately, experiences so many people in the world will NEVER experience. Not even once in their lives.  If even those are a stretch, you can start with yourself. I have eyes. I can walk. I am breathing and alive. Expand from these into areas of gratitude which are outside of yourself.

Take a moment and jot these down every day. At the end of the week, or any other time you are stressed, you can take a moment and look at it. Be reminded that there is something to be grateful for every day-I’m confident you’ll be happy with what you see.

Do you have difficulties expressing gratitude? Do you already incorporate these ideas into your daily routines? If yes, how? If no, why not?

Photos courtesy of Flickr and are licensed for commercial reuse