BEING GRATEFUL AND
WHAT IT CAN DO FOR YOU
Before I get into the real body of this blog, I would like to thank my family, friends, clients and readers for playing such an astonishing role in my life. I recently heard that GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching won the Mental Health Therapist of the Year Prestige Award - Gauteng - South Africa 2020 from CorporateLiveWire. What an absolute honour and privilege to work with each one of you and the influence that you have in the work that I do.
I have briefly written about gratitude in some of my previous blogs but thought that I would dedicate a full blog to gratitude and what it can do for you. In this blog, I will also give you a few tips on what you can do to cultivate a grateful attitude. I truly hope that you find this interesting and that it has some positive impact on your life.
When we experience mental health struggles, it is difficult to see the beauty around us. We struggle to notice the little things that can help lift our spirits and allow it to influence us in a positive manner. Sometimes we get engulfed in self-pity and negative thought processes and yes, it can be difficult to avoid these occurrences. But did you know that mentally strong individuals actually exchange self-pity for gratitude? Before we go any further, take a moment to look up from this screen and acknowledge everything that you have in your life, no matter how insignificant you might think it is. Is it the kids or pets running around the house making a mess (you have a home, kids and maybe pets), is it that sad-looking plant on the floor (you have a plant that you can care for) which might only need a little bit of water or is it the leaky roof in your room (you have a room to sleep in and a roof over your head)? Who knows, it might be the clothes you are wearing or a few precious pictures of your loved ones gathering dust in a corner. All these things are things that you can give thanks to and it can transform your life if you allow it. Simply put, gratitude is taking the time to think about all the positive things in your life. And before I forget, gratitude is completely free, mahala, at no cost.
Gratitude has so many benefits and as I go through the benefits, I am also going to give you tips on how to you achieve these benefits and cultivate this skill. Remember, we all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude, it might take a bit of practise and dedication. Research has shown that it can take several months of continuous practice for the largest benefits of gratitude to appear. Do not get discouraged by the last statement, remember what you are working towards and the benefits that it will hold for you and your well-being.
- Improve Sleep: By jotting down a few things that you are grateful for just before you go to sleep can help you to sleep better and longer. If you are struggling with 15 minutes, start of with 5 minutes to write down a few sentiments that you are grateful for. You might think that 5 minutes are too short, but it really focuses on the emotions of gratitude that you feel during those 5 minutes. These emotions are enough to trigger a positive and grateful mood. You might even find that you are in the positive feedback loop where you feel gratitude more frequently, more intense and that the feeling will be held for longer.
- Improve Self-Esteem: Self-gratitude actually decreases social comparison. Instead of becoming resentful towards other people by allowing distrust and feelings of inferiority into your life, start to notice their efforts and accomplishments. This plays an essential component to optimal performance and your own happiness. Try coupling your gratitude with positive mantras, this can increase your confidence.
- Develops our Personality: Gratitude makes us more optimistic which in turn makes us happier. Because you are focusing on the good in life and start to believe that you have more good in your life, you will start the process of believing that your future holds greater potential for good.
- Increase Ability to Bounce Back: As mentioned earlier, we all experience negative emotions from time to time. Some more than others unfortunately. By practicing gratitude will not make you automatically immune to these negative feelings. What it does, is build your resilience and allow you the opportunity to bounce back faster as the emotional rollercoaster does not last that long. You will be able to employ your coping skills more proactively and be more open to seek social support in times of need.
- Makes Memories Happier: We all have memories of something, someone or some significant events. These memories change over time and sometimes we even punish ourselves over what happened a long time ago. What if we handled it another way? Why did I say what I said or why did I do what I did? Sometimes we remember things as being worse than what they really were. By being present and mindful allows us the opportunity to remember positive memories in a more positive light and might even transform some of those negative memories into more positive ones. When we cultivate our objective mind, we allow new information into our train of thought and who knows, you might even experience gratitude within the events that you find yourself in.
- Helps us Relax: Because gratitude is such a positive emotion, it is one of the strongest relaxants available. Couple gratitude with relaxing breathing techniques and meditating or soothing music and you might just get it right to fall into a deep relaxing sleep.
- Enhances Empathy and Reduces Aggression: When you stop judging others and start behaving in a prosocial manner you will notice that you experience more sensitivity and empathy towards others. You are less likely to retaliate against negative feedback and your desire to seek revenge decreases.
- Opens the Door to Relationships: Gratitude is basically saying “thank you”. Not only does the words “thank you” show good manners, but by showing this appreciation towards others can help you form new relationships because it makes us more social, more trusting, and more appreciative. Think of it this way, when you show a bit of appreciation and acknowledgement towards new acquaintances, the chances are that they might want to seek an ongoing relationship which can even lead to new opportunities for all parties involved.
- Improve Physical Health: In the Mindful and Holistic Blog, I mentioned the link between Body, Mind and Spirit. It has been researched and proven that grateful people are more likely to take better care of their own health because it reduces bad health symptoms like pain and increases energy, time spent on exercising and can even extend your lifespan by a few months. Please note that gratitude is not a cure but only a way of improving your health by improving your mind. By practicing gratitude, it will allow you to cope better and also better manage medical conditions that gets thrown on your path.
- Improve Psychological Health and Mental Strength: Gratitude decreases so many toxic emotions, for example envy, regret, frustration, depression and resentment and increases feelings and emotions of happiness and well-being. But that is not all, gratitude reduces stress and plays a major role in the overcoming of trauma as it fosters resilience. Embodying gratefulness can help protect us when we are at our weakest. With this tool, and off course a few other tools, gratitude can enable the development of your strengths and other personal resources that you can count on through your journey towards a better and healthier life, especially when going through rehabilitation from substance abuse.
- Reduces Materialism: We all like nice things and there is nothing wrong with wanting more nice things, but be aware that it does not make you feel more self-centred and less competent if you do not have or cannot afford those nice things right away. Enjoy what you have in life and work towards your goals without sacrificing your own well-being and values. When we focus on what we have and what we can be grateful for, there is no place for envy and self-punishment. This can only lead you to feeling better about yourself.
- Makes us Less Self-Centred: When you focus less on yourself and focusses more on helping and understanding others it can greatly benefit you in becoming more grateful.
- Makes us Feel Good: Yes, it makes me feel good to be grateful. It feels good to do good for others, but it also feels good when others are there as support for us. It does not make you weak to admit that others (family, friends, God, strangers) have influence on your life and that you might need them so now and then. It is the concept of inter-dependency where you rely on each other by focussing on the good, the positive and on the wonderful uplifting influence you can have on one another. You are not indebted to one another, but you are acknowledging each other’s kindness with thanks. Another point to raise is although gratitude might not make you sexier, it will help you gain the respect of others, make you more approachable and it will make you feel good.
- Increases your Decision-Making Skills and Productivity: We deliberate, we reason, we weigh things up against each other and sometimes these processes can be overwhelming and tiring. There are so many variables to consider that we loose sight of the purpose and joy of being able to make these decisions. When we find aspects in the decision-making process to be grateful for, it actually serves as a motivator and smothers the insecurities when having to focus on difficult decisions and worries. Try exhibiting the traits of gratefulness and see how it affects your self-esteem. You might experience that it reduces your insecurities which will help you focus better and thereby improve your productivity and decision-making skills.
Above I have given you a few benefits and combined it with a few tips on gratitude. Now I am only going to focus on exercises and activities that you can practice for cultivating gratitude. Some I might have mentioned earlier, but I feel that it is still nice and convenient for you to have it all in one list.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal: Take 5 – 10 minutes to write down things that you are grateful for. Add to this list daily and refer back to your previous entries should you need a bit of a reminder and pick-me-up when feeling deflated. This is a nice exercise to do just before sleep time.
- Reach Out: Reach out to somebody that you care for and tell them that you love and appreciate them for who they are and for the role that they play in your life. You might even want to take it a step further and tell them what the benefits are that you experienced through incorporating gratefulness into your life. Share your knowledge and watch how their grateful journey opens up and enriches their lives.
- Focus on your Strengths: That critical eye that you love focusing on yourself is damaging. Focus on your wonderful attributes and start appreciating you for who you are and who you aim to be. Remember, you are worth it.
- Smile: Smile more often. Who knows, somebody might be grateful for your smile that helped them through a dark and difficult time. You might also notice that your genuine smile can change your outlook and attitude on life. Extra bonus, a smile is always attractive.
- Turn Challenges into Opportunities: When we are faced with challenges, we tend to stare ourselves blind against all the obstacles. Take this opportunity to challenge your thoughts and how you feel. Are you seeing the opportunities for growth and gaining knowledge (including something new about yourself)? Another point to raise here is to start noticing the growth opportunities in your mistakes and be thankful when you learn something new.
- Stop and Avoid: It is easy to gossip, but what if you spread something positive and good instead of demeaning and hurtful? There is a mind-shift that takes place here and once you master this skill, your outlook can change to a much more positive one. Avoid negative media with destructive content. Sometimes media is only there to spread negative sensational content. Do not lend your ears, eyes and time out to negative influences. Rather watch inspiring videos that will remind you that there is good in this world.
- Include Something Positive: Include something positive into your day. Include an act of kindness into your life each day. You can even volunteer for organisations that will help others. Spend quality time with your loved ones and nurture these relationships, because they do not come along every day.
- Gratitude Collage: Cut out pictures that remind you what you are grateful for. Stick them on a poster or in a diary. You can even cut out inspirational quotes and stick them all over the house as a reminder of the good and positive things in life.
- Reward: Recognise and reward yourself and others for inspirational and positive efforts. Start saying heartfelt “Thank You’s” for things that you would normally take for granted.
- Gratitude Jar: It might sound simple and even a bit silly, but the effects of this exercise can have a profound impact on your well-being and outlook. Take a jar, decorate it all pretty and nice and put it in a place where you can easily spot it when you are home. On a daily routine, think of at least 2 things that you can be grateful for. Write it on a little piece of paper and drop it in the jar. After some time, the jar will fill up. When you are experiencing a difficult and gloomy day, go through the little notes in the jar to remind you of what and who is good in our life.
- Exercise: Walking in itself is therapeutic, but when you combine this exercise with a grateful and inviting attitude, it can combat stress and increase feelings of well-being. Notice the colours, sounds and smells of the nature that surrounds you and invite the beauty into your mind.
- It is OKAY to be Human: It is okay to feel glum and a bit down in the dumps sometimes. It is what you do with this that will have the most impact. You can either allow the down feelings to engulf you or you can reach out for a bit of help. There is me and many other therapists all over the country that are more than willing to help you with the journey that you are on. Remember, you never have to fight your mental health struggles alone.
You might feel a bit overwhelmed with all this information but take it one step at a time. The first step was when you looked up from the screen and looked at things around you that you can be grateful for. Now you can build on it. Get into the detective mode if you have to, but it should not be so difficult, especially when you not only search for the big things, but start noticing the little gems in the rough. Make a conscious decision today to appreciate life.
As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following might give you a bit more insight. The first one is from Roy T Bennett who said, “Be grateful for what you already have while you pursue your goals. If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.”, and this one from Epicurus who said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”. As a little bonus, here is a last quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”.
As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video Calls, Zoom Video Meetings, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible. I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time. Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health.
Thank you very much for reading my blog. I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere. Please send any feedback or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and remember to have a look out for a new blog every second week.