Gratitude Part 1: a little attitude with the potential to change the world.

“Grace….. It’s…a thought that changed the world…. Grace finds beauty in everything.” U2.

Gratitude, I believe, works the same way, with the ability to change the world. At the very least, it certainly changes YOUR personal world as it changes your perspective. Have you ever wondered how two people in similar circumstances can have such different outlooks and attitudes to life? I would argue gratitude plays an important role.

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Gratitude is, put very simply, an attitude of being grateful. We can be grateful for just about anything. The air we breathe, a comfortable bed, food in your belly, clothes to wear, loved ones, the sun shining, your favourite song coming on the radio as you drive to work, a bird singing outside the window and the list goes on.

We can even turn many of our gripes around to express our gratitude. Instead of complaining I need to go to work, I can be grateful to have a job. Instead of whining about my partner leaving clothes on the floor, I can be grateful to have a partner and a loving relationship, however imperfect it may be. Instead of griping about the chore of grocery shopping, I can be grateful to have money to buy food and a choice of products available for purchase. Instead of whingeing about chauffeuring kids around, I can be grateful to have kids to chauffeur and a car to drive. You get the idea.

Gratitude shifts your focus, gives you a new perspective, makes you more positive and enhances your everyday experiences. As Miya Yamanouchi said, “Gratitude is the antidote for misery. When you are counting your blessings you are too busy to be counting your problems.”

Gratitude goes hand in hand with a growth mindset. Simplified to extremes, someone with a growth mindset believes it is possible to improve intelligence and skillset and succeed through hard work; mistakes and setbacks lead to personal growth; failures can be valuable. A person working from this mindset will have a more positive outlook and is more likely to feel and express gratitude. Conversely, someone working from a fixed mindset believes they are a victim of circumstance, powerless to change or better themselves to succeed. They are more likely to give up before achieving success, to have a more negative outlook on life and to feel and express gratitude less often.

Feeling gratitude is the first step. It is something I believe is sadly lacking in our current western society as a whole and clearly visible in entitled attitudes and comments most of us regularly encounter. Lack of gratitude originates from a belief something is missing, rather than a focus on what is present. A gracious person will think of a glass as half full whilst an ingracious person will consider the exact same glass half empty. This doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious and strive to improve, rather that the striving is better founded in an attitude of gratitude. If this is your starting point, you’re already a giant step ahead.

An attitude of gratitude is something I work on personally and try to incorporate into my classroom. But how can we establish a conscious gratitude practice so it becomes a habit?

Gratitude diaries can be helpful to establish the habit. Many commercial versions are available, but all you really need is some paper and a writing implement. Spend a few minutes at the beginning or end of each day listing what you’re grateful for. You may choose a set number, say three or a set time to list your ‘gratefuls’, maybe five minutes. I once attempted to introduce this to my family, buying beautiful journals and proposing we share some of what we were grateful for weekly. I was devastated when all either refused to participate or did so for only a couple of weeks. I share this to demonstrate I am certainly not speaking from the perspective of an expert here, but rather as an ordinary person struggling to incorporate more gratitude into my own life and the lives of those around me.

As with most things, gratitude becomes increasingly easy as you continue to practise it. Quite a few years ago, I was struggling with many aspects of my life. I wasn’t sleeping well and would awaken in the early hours of the morning, unable to get back to sleep. On more than one occasion, I got up and wrote a list of ‘gratefuls’ – pages of items I was grateful for, each beginning “I am grateful for…”. This shifted my focus away from my problems and back to what was going well; what I was getting right. I even managed to turn around some of my stressors and express them as something to be grateful for. This calmed my restless head and heart and I eventually returned to bed for a little more sleep. Most of these lists were thrown out or destroyed. What happened to them wasn’t important. It was the process of thinking through and writing them down which was important to change my perspective, give me a new appreciation for what I already had and a determination to move forward.

Many families do a daily thumbs up/ thumbs down or high/ low around the dinner table, where each person states something good that happened to them as well as a problem or issue they need help with. The thumbs up or highs are another simple way to express gratitude.

A mindful walk or drive can be a gratitude prompter. As you walk your neighbourhood or drive to work, turn off the music and pay attention to your surroundings. Notice sights, sounds, feelings. Think about what you are grateful for. Walking around my neighbourhood, I can be grateful for the weather, walking paths, freedom, natural surroundings, interesting houses to look at as I pass, friendly dogs saying hello, catching sight of a fish leaping out of the water, an osprey chick in its nest, strong legs to carry me. Driving to work, I can be grateful for a car to drive, money to put petrol into it, getting a green light, a safe commute, a sunny day after weeks of rain. There is so much to be grateful for and a brief mindful gratitude practice can help shift our focus, making us more aware of these things.

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What have you put into practice yourself or seen others use to focus on experiencing gratitude in the midst ofeveryday life? I’d love to hear some of your ideas either in the comments below or by contacting me.

FEELING gratitude is the first step and can be taught or learnt through many gratitude practices such as those already mentioned.

EXPRESSING that gratitude is the next step, which we will explore a little in Gratitude: the attitude that can change your world. Part 2. To make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to have new blog posts delivered to your inbox.

Anna xo

Reference: U2 Grace, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000.

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