Gratitude

3 Strategies for Gratitude When Life is Tough!

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These days I often introduce the idea of a Gratitude Journal by telling the story of  Gabi MacEwan. An inspirational lady who decided to start practising gratitude after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. As she says:

“I don’t live in a constant state of bliss. Sometimes I’m frustrated, disillusioned and sad, but I heartily recommend the cumulative effect of noticing and noting the moments of delight, relief or humour each day.”

So with that recommendation I want to give you some strategies for keeping the gratitude alive when life sucks, because being told to keep a Gratitude Journal when you feel your life is going down the pan, things look bleak and your feeling low can be a big ‘ask’. It’s times like this that doing a gratitude journal can be really tough. I’ve had clients say there was just nothing in their day that they felt grateful for, some have said they were writing the same old things and grew tired of the ‘chore’. Ironically of course when life is unfairly hard is exactly when you benefit from the practice the most.

I often express my gratitude for the people in my life, but I am also truly grateful for the nature I see around me and for my camera that allows me the creative expression I value in life.
I often express my gratitude for the people in my life, but I am also truly grateful for the nature I see around me and for my camera that allows me to record some of what I see.

What is this About?

I recently posted on the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, but as with many good habits you may find yourself too busy to do it when you are feeling good, and too tough when your not. So if you are like some of my original clients, you will keep a journal for a few days and then the practice of being grateful will begin to slide.

The answer is to make it habit and for that happen you need to commit to doing the practice until it becomes a subconscious reaction to think of things you are grateful for. Some people say it takes 21 days to make a habit stick, others 66, whoever is right, you will probably benefit from a strategy and support to really embed this new behaviour and way of thinking.

So having some strategies and support will help you make this positive activity a habit and today I want to focus on one of those strategies that makes keeping a gratefulness journal easy.

Why is this Important?

Because lets face it, there are times when life sucks! Whatever the reason for the ‘suckyness’, the simple act of writing down (or saying out-loud) the things for which we’re grateful gives benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike. Brilliant medicine when life feels like it is going down the pan and things looks bleak.

How do I Use This?

Personally I find that buying a nice journal helped me to keep me committed to the task and you may want to do the same thing. Make a conscious choice now and commit to experiencing more gratitude in your life. Then try these strategies:

  1. Set aside some time so you can allow yourself the opportunity to really notice the depth of your gratitude. Take time to relish and savour the feelings.
  2. Pick one person you know and just take time to allow all of the good reasons for having them in your life surface into your consciousness. Whenever possible focus on people and dogs in your life. Apparently whether we think of our pet dogs or children the same area of our brains are activated. So being grateful for your dog is ok!
  3. Go into depth – Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

If you can think of these things in terms of gifts so much the better, according to Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude. His advice is:

“Be aware of your feelings and how you “relish” and “savor” this gift in your imagination. Take the time to be especially aware of the depth of your gratitude.”

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” ― Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

I wonder if you maybe surprised at what you have been grateful for today?

Resources
The power of gratitude

Gabi MacEwan Blog: Losing the Will To Die

10 Reasons Why Gratitude is Good for You

It Takes 66 days to make a Habbit

Kids, dogs touch same soft spots in the brain: study

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Can you get a better nights sleep and improve your health and happiness?

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Is your mind busy when it’s time to rest and sleep? Do you have problems switching off at bedtime? Mind active and won’t slow down? Do you toss and turn because your thoughts won’t let you rest?

If that image of being too restless to sleep sounds like you, you have a lot in common with many of  the people I help and there is a good chance your flight or fight response is active.

What is this about?

So lets talk about one way to switch off the fight or flight response and quieten the mind down at bedtime. There are many ways to achieve this, and one I really like is to keep a gratitude journal.

Spending a few minutes each night to think about things you are really grateful for is a great way to calm the mind and body and trigger the relaxation response. Focusing on the things you have been grateful for during the day will help you to let go of the things that were worrying you and help you get a good nights sleep.

But you do need to do it properly; robotically going through things you think you should be grateful for is not the same! If you are aware of the work of Candace Pert, you will know that your thoughts trigger the release of chemicals that flood the body, but that does not really happen if you think the thoughts in a detached fashion. You need to think the thoughts with your heart too.

Why is this Important?

It is really important that the fight or flight response is turned off and the relaxation response is triggered for sleep. Normally during sleep our bodies and minds should go through cycles of healing and repair, but these cycles are associated with being in a relaxed state. When we are stressed they are put on hold and your body does not heal and repair as it should.

So if you want to be healthy and happy triggering the relaxation response just before sleep will help.

It seems odd to think we can be stressed while sleeping, but studies have shown that some people, like those with CFS/ME, do actually stay stressed during their sleep.  So spending a few minutes contemplating what you are grateful for or what has gone well during the day is one way to switch off the fight or flight response.

Gratitude is great because it focuses you on what you have, not what you want or what you would like. I buy a nice little note pad for those that take part in my workshops, so they can use it as a journal and I urge you to buy something special too. Having a nice book to write in and maybe a nice pen will make the activity special and keep you motivated.

How do I Use This?

“I didn’t expect to recover from my second operation but since I did, I consider that I’m living on borrowed time. Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit, even under difficult conditions.” ― Henri Matisse

Personally I would prefer a paper based journal as modern technology like phones tend to keep us stimulated, alert and possibly stressed. Much better to create your own paper based journal which can become a treasure trove of positivity for you, as it fills with things that you have been grateful for. Something like this is ideal.

Spend a little bit of time composing your thoughts and then write down what you have been grateful for today. Feel the feelings as deeply as possible with your heart.

One lady I was talking too, said how truly grateful she felt for the home she lived in, even though it was nowhere near as nice as she would like. This was something she had moaned about and criticised until hearing of a tragedy the other side of the world where people had lost their homes and were spending night outside. Another lady spent ages trying to think of something only to realise she was grateful for the comfortable warm bed she was laying in.

Another chap said he thought of a different person he knew each night, spending time remembering how they have or had positively contributed to his life. It’s a good thing to vary what you write to keep it fresh and relevant.

Sometimes when times are tough, or we are busy and tired it is easy to answer with our head only. You know what I mean, when you say something but it does not have that emotional resonance, that physical sensation that lets you know you have felt something with your heart. Notice the difference between thinking what you are grateful for and feeling it with your heart. It can help to place your hand on your heart and allow the thoughts of gratitude to flow from there.

I wonder if you maybe surprised at what you have been grateful for today?

Resources
The power of gratitude

10 Reasons Why Gratitude is Good for You

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