“The more you give, the more you get back,” I heard myself saying to my 8-year-old son in the back seat of our Honda CRV. He was whining about having to share a few pieces of his Doritos with me. Yes, I nibble on my children’s food but that’s not the point. We can talk about that part at a later date. My point is that the secret sauce to life is to give generously especially if you are as blessed as most everyday normal people are. Let’s face it: first world problems are real problems but in the light of what the rest of the world is faced with, we, in the western world, complain a tad too much.
I want to start a conversation about how undervalued Gratitude is in our society. I’m noticing it around me. Media attention has shifted to all things “self help” but at the end of the day, the real deal lies in the practice of these virtues – that’s what I’m talking about. What are we doing in our daily lives to invite Gratitude into our souls, into our families, into our workplace (a biggie!) and eventually into our world? And daily is an essential word here.
I think for the most part, people take Gratitude for granted. We feel it. We sense it. We participate in our annual, biannual, monthly charity events. We teach it to our kids. But do we really live it? Taking myself as an example. In my weakest moment, in the midst of a road rage (and believe you me, I am working on this!), am I practicing Gratitude? Not often. I give myself a break, practice some self-compassion and tell myself that next time I will be better. Because in the midst of a heightened negative emotion, practicing Gratitude can be extremely hard yet it’s the exact antidote to your anger or sadness.
This is why I am passionate about establishing a regular Gratitude practice to preempt such pitfalls as much as possible. We are only humans. Primal instincts will take over as they should, especially during times when they are warranted but research proves that chronic stress consumes our race. We stress about so many things that have nothing to do with survival. Let’s change that.
There are many ways to engage in a Gratitude practice. Here are just 3 simple practices that you can start right away. If you have children, encourage them to practice along side with you.
- Keep a gratitude journal beside your bed. Every morning or night, make a list of 5 things/events/people that made you feel grateful. Don’t just think of the big ticket items (e.g. I won the lottery!) but the simplest ones. In fact the simpler the better. Finding the beauty in smaller gratitudes is key to life satisfaction. Try “I am grateful for the smile from the barista this morning”.
- Pick a charity or an organization. Acts of kindness lead to feelings of gratitude. Donating your time (instead of cash) to be of service to others is a great way to invite gratitude into your life. Lately I have been donating my time to teach the students of Everyday Child. I love this organization. Here is more on them and the best part? It’s ONLINE! It requires a mere 10-30 minutes of your time. How much easier can this get? Reflect on your values, do your research and then decide where you want to channel your energy.
- Try this fun activity during your family dinner: Have everyone write down three things they are grateful at the present moment (use coloured paper and markers-makes it all that much more vibrant and fun!). Then fold up the responses and drop it into a bowl. Pass the bowl around the table, asking each person to pick up a random paper. Take turns reading the gratitudes out loud and guessing who wrote them.
Research proves that experiencing gratitude and actively engaging in this practice is correlated with increased life satisfaction and vitality, higher levels of well being, better sleep, less self-centeredness, and more optimism. If all this isn’t enough, further research shows that the feeling of gratitude boosts your immune system, decreases blood pressure, decreases stress hormones and reduces depression. And oh! The best one? Gratitude makes you richer! If you don’t believe me, then believe Oprah. This what she says.
Let’s turn things around with Gratitudes as a simple and easy act that you can do anytime, anywhere. That’s the beauty of this practice. Incorporating gratitude into your everyday life will help you shift your mindset and cultivate compassion.
How many other creative ways can you extend gratitude to yourself and to others? Explore, engage and build your life altering practice.