Expressed gratitude is not a new phenomenon. Exchanging fear, anxiety and even self-pity for thankfulness and compassion can markedly change mindset and outlook, offering fresh perspective at difficult times.
Now, more than ever, expressing thanks might be the lifeline we need.
Gratitude literally means, ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness’.
I’m using the word kindness tentatively here as we are so often reminded to #bekind, often via social media. The very confronting nature of this imperative can feel commanding and dutiful, erasing the sentiment behind the action.
In fact, we know that offering kindness/compassion/empathy to others can bring about connection both within and with those around us. Fostering a culture of being thankful and grateful can be transformative in shifting stuckness and dislodging toxic emotions within.
Practicing gratitude is grounding, keeping us in touch with there here and now. Grounding brings with it a sense of perspective and roots us into present day. Anxiety, negative thinking and catastrophising all take us out of the present and into an unknown and largely irrational place. Recent stats (pinch of salt, I know) tell us that we are more anxious than ever, topping up our grief as we navigate lockdown 3.0. Grounding ourselves literally keeps our feet on the floor and reconnects our brain and body; which has a longer term impact on our ability to cope.
How we package gratitude is important, too. Instagram influencers across the land (but mainly currently in Dubai, I hear) tell us daily how #blessed they are to be ‘gifted’ an expensive car/handbag/facelift. And you know, you do you. I am interested in the deeper level gratitude and how we can use it to empower ourselves to cultivate a calmer way of being.
It’s a bit of a CBT technique really, challenging the reality of a negative thought by evidence testing it with the present. Once we de-escalate from the anxiety clouds, we begin to see more clearly. Within that clarity often comes a new found appreciation for lots of things we already have right in front of us.
Disclaimer — I am not suggesting gratitude can change the world or even your feelings about it, it simply offers another dimension to our thinking. There is always a time and place for the genuine helplessness of grief.
But on a more parochial level (and sometimes this is the micro detail we must deal in) — I am curious about whether gratitude can help us.
‘Yes, I’m a hyperthanker, but am I thankful?’, says Angela Scanlon, journalist and broadcaster. Scanlon hosts a podcast (of course she does, who doesn’t in lockdown?) and I know we love to emulate podcast formats to pass our time. The podcast is called Thanks A Million and Scanlon interviews her guests on ‘the big thank you, the thank you next and the thanks that got away’.
It doesn’t have to be monumental — it can be the small and frivolous that really grounds you or makes your day.
Matt Haig shares a similar sentiment in his ridiculously inspiring memoir ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ — those small, sensory experiences that help us feel human and connected. Haig titles them — How to live (forty pieces of advice I feel to be helpful but which I don’t always follow).
So how do I integrate this into my life, you ask?
Gratitude journaling -which is a fancy wellness marketing slogan for ‘just writing it down’. Documenting regularly 3 things you feel thankful or grateful for. No need to overthink, just whatever pops into your head that day.
While you might always be thankful for your supportive family, just writing “I’m grateful for my family” week after week doesn’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. More specific thinking like ‘Today my partner made my favourite tea as he knew I was stressed” helps us tune into the minutiae and appreciate those nourishing grains we can sometimes overlook.
What will yours be today?
Now that’s what I call modern mindfulness.
Happy Monday 🙂