Last semester I stumbled upon a write up by Robert Emmons. He offers everyday tips for living a life of gratitude. Nursing school and parenting stress, as well as the stress of handling a divorce are really something that can make a person feel a little less than grateful to be alive. However, the joy of running, the wind biting my cheeks as I push my bike to new speeds, the burning in my muscles and lungs when I achieve a zen moment on my swim all remind me that to be alive and surrounded by your people is the greatest gift of all.
So, I set about trying a 6 month test of what really happens when one takes some tips on gratefulness that they found on the internet, and applies them to one's life. I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen, but certainly I felt that this was an experiment that couldn't hurt. Worse case, I lose interest and stop doing it.
In that time my life was not all peaches and cream. I became very ill, sustained a running injury that took me out of my sport, handled the day to day stress of Nursing School, and, have I mentioned I have a teenage daughter?
The results were profound. Or, at least, from my perspective. I definitely feel more optimistic on life. I find joy in simple things, feel grateful for what I have, and very rarely look around and wish for more. There are times I am financially pinched, but I look around and recognize that my financial pinch is still pretty freaking spoiled.
I not only feel better about my life, but other people often comment on how happy I am, or how happy I appear to be "from the outside". And why wouldn't I be happy? I have a great life.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. I keep this blog, and I have tried in the past several months to record things that are not just for the "value" of the lesson (i.e. - if you train this way you will see those results), but also to record some of the joy I find in my day to day life.
2. Remember the Bad. To be grateful in your current state, it is helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced. This is tricky. One has to remember the bad without getting sucked into it. This was/is a great way for me to remember how far I've come in a relatively short time.
3. Come to Your Senses.Through our senses—the ability to touch, see, smell, taste, and hear—we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human and of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive. I do this often. I try to savor the sights and smells of my bike rides or running routes. I taste the salt in the air at the beach. I stop on the side of the road in NY to sample Maple Syrup because that is something I can do. It's a visceral experience, your body inwardly tells you that you are in a good place when pure maple syrup is sliding down your throat, energizing your sense of taste in a way that Mrs Butterworth cannot...
4. Watch your Language. Grateful people have a particular linguistic style that uses the language of gifts, givers, blessings, blessed, fortune, fortunate, and abundance. In gratitude, you should not focus on how inherently good you are, but rather on the inherently good things that others have done on your behalf. I have a friend in my life who is always thanking me for being me. It's taken some getting used to, but I like it. This friend reminds me, daily, that saying thank you, expressing my blessings, taking joy in another #bestdayever is a way for me to practice using my grateful language.
5. Go Through the Motions. If you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered. Grateful motions include smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters of gratitude. There are times I just don't feel grateful. I don't feel like writing in my blog about how schmoopy I am over my sweet children, because I'm discouraged or stressed. These are the times when I remember one of my nursing school buddies, Alex. She likes to say, "Fake it till you Make it", and she's right. The days I feel low, I try harder to capture the joy of the moment and smile. I smile and thank the girl at Kroger by name, because sometimes it's easier to "make their day", rather than make mine. Try it. The Grocery Clerk will thank you for it. Often, it makes my day too.
There are many more tips than this, but these are the Five I practice and how I practice them. If I could add a 6th, it would be to Feel empowered to make Changes. If you don't like how things are going, if you wish that you could have a better job or more education, or be a stronger runner, or do 100 push-ups, start today. Whether you start today or wait, the time will still pass.