It seems like common sense that if you focus on the positive, you will be a more joyful person. While having a sunny outlook is something we may strive for, sometimes it can feel challenging to notice the good. When your teething toddler is having tantrums every five minutes and you’re battling a cold and your husband is away on business, it can seem impossible to be grateful.
And yet, it could be the most helpful thing you do for yourself.
It is exactly in these dark times that it’s important to focus on gratitude. In fact, there is scientific proof that it will benefit you to look on the bright side and give thanks for the wonderful things in your life.
According to the Harvard Medical School online journal, two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California and Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done a lot of research on gratitude.
In one study, they asked a group of people to write about things they were grateful for during a one-week period. Another group wrote about things that bothered or irritated them. A third group just wrote the facts about their day-to-day lives, without a negative or positive spin.
They found, not surprisingly, that at the end of the study, the group that wrote down what they were grateful for every day felt happier and more optimistic. They were taking better care of themselves and exercising more than other groups as well.
So how can you cultivate gratitude in your life?
1. Take metal note of the people in your lives who love you and support you.
This can be as simple as noticing when a friend sends a sweet text asking you to go for a tea, or your child tells you she loves you, or your mother-in-law comes over to let you have a nap.
2. Look around you at the “things” that make up your daily life.
Notice that every single thing in the room has been made by someone else. Just for you! The chair you are sitting on was made by people, even if they were operating a machine in the factory. People transported it to a store, where other people unpacked it and displayed it. The salad you’re eating has vegetables that were grown by people, watered, picked, packed and trucked to the store for you to buy. The clothing you wear had people involved in all the steps between taking the cotton off the plant to the sweater that is now keeping you warm. In the case of handmade clothing like Miou’s, you can think about the woman who sat and knitted the clothing with her own two hands, checking the stitches, trimming the wool. This will help remind you that we are being help up and supported in invisible ways all the times.
3. Say thank you
Is there anyone you can think of who you could express gratitude to for something they have done for you? Do it! Sometimes just writing down how much you appreciate someone can make you feel happy
Focussing on the present moment without judging it or clinging to negative thoughts can help cultivate gratitude for just being alive. If you become flooded with anger or bitterness or self-pity, try to let those thoughts dissipate, even for a moment.
Gratitude can become a practice, just like any other habit. Noticing what is wonderful about your life will help push aside the other, less positive feelings we all get. As parents, showing our children how to walk through their lives counting their blessings instead of focussing on their hardships will give them a gift that lasts them their whole lives.