It may be the wisdom that naturally comes with age, my increased life experiences, or the constantly evolving positive mindset that I’ve been working on for years now. But, lately, I’ve been particularly attuned to the thoughts of gratitude that run through my mind on a daily basis. Even more surprising, is that it is not a deliberate thing like I thought it needed to be. I don’t need to set aside time to write down or actively think about what I am grateful for…it just sort of happens. For example, the day after I’ve had a migraine, I wake up thinking about how good my body feels from head to toe. I feel genuinely appreciative for the fact that I am no longer in pain. Further, on mornings when our entire family gets up and out of the house without any drama or aggravation, I now naturally notice that my head is clear and my heart isn’t racing, as I drive my daughters to school. I feel at ease and relish the sense of calm in my body. These things may sound so simple but, I am so grateful. In fact, I’ve come to realize that these small, daily strokes of life are what end-up painting our entire lives. Gratitude is what makes the ultimate picture a beautiful one.
You might be wondering what I did to get to this place of gratitude. Like I mentioned, It wasn’t a daily practice as is recommended by gratitude experts (and by people like me). It wasn’t an aha moment or a brush with poor health that made me “see the light.” Actually, I couldn’t have answered where it came from until I began packaging the GAALS + PAALS lessons I had created to provide to schools. As I reviewed one lesson after another, and prepped the activities so that other teachers can easily deliver them, what became apparent was how much overlap there is with the life skills we teach in each lesson (Prior to this, lessons had been fairly fluid, changing over time as I facilitated, based on new learnings and ideas.) For example, trying new things, problem solving, and perseverance are all skills that overlap and build upon each other, as are responsibility, independence, and effort. When you take a minute to think about it, the steps you need to take in order to strengthen just one of these life skills naturally encompassed several others. Once you start actively trying to improve or pay attention to just one of these things, it’s like a domino effect. All of the other things start to fall into place. And that’s what happened to me with gratitude.
Let me explain the two areas I WAS deliberately working on, and how it naturally led me to live a more grateful life.
Years ago, I noticed that my go-to way of processing events, thinking about them, and responding was negative. Of course, I didn’t love this about myself. As such, I desperately wanted to gain the ability to see things in a more positive light. Even further, I wanted that to be instinctual. But frankly, I doubted I would ever be able to make that happen. I assumed that, at this point in my life, I was pretty much stuck in my ways: exhibit A on my sense of negativity!! Yet, for some reason, I was compelled to try anyway.
I had already taken the first step, becoming aware of the problem. Next, I began gaining insight by catching myself thinking negatively in various different contexts. Each time, I tried to reframe my thinking in order to see the positive. This process gradually got quicker and easier. Without even realizing it at first, I was beginning to shift my mindset in a way where (in most situations) I was first able to recognize the positive before worrying about the negatives. I think this shift really hit me after I had a bicycle accident which left me with some broken bones and facial lacerations. I kept marveling at the fact that, even though I was pretty banged up, the accident didn’t result in any serious, life-threatening injuries. I thought about how the accident actually couldn’t have happened at a better time (although there is never a perfect time for an unfortunate accident). But, thankfully, I wasn’t going to visit my daughters at sleepaway camp until three weeks later, so all they would see was a cast-they wouldn’t realize how bad the accident was. Also, I was excited about the fact that after I had healed, there would still be quite a few weeks of summer that I could still enjoy. This was quite a change for me. I was so happy, and admittedly proud of myself, for reacting with such a positive frame of mind.
More recently, I made a concerted effort to be present, to live in the moment. Most people would call this mindfulness (I think being present is more fitting and descriptive in this case). I began practicing every morning while walking in the woods with my dog. Throughout the day, I would also try to catch myself when my mind and/or actions wandered from the conversation or task at hand. I tried my best to focus on one thing at a time. While I have yet to make drastic improvements, I have certainly made progress (which is what we should continually strive for because there really is no such thing as perfection). As is the case with anything, the more I practice the more progress I make. Each time I noticed success, it fueled me to continue striving for me.
Now, what does being positive and mindful have to do with being grateful you might ask? Well, for me, it seems that gratitude starts with mindfulness. Just stopping and checking in with yourself, you can’t help but notice all of the good, which leads to being grateful for those good things in life.
Why not try it and see where you land!
Or, you can simply start practicing gratitude on a regular basis. Here are some 5 ideas to get you started.
- Each day, find 3 things that you are grateful for. People. Nature. Comforts (like a fluffy pillow and down blanket to keep you warm or a delicious meal) It’s a simple habit that helps us notice and appreciate the world around us.
- Share your gratitude with your family. Discuss with your family things that you are grateful for – in your life and specifics about the person(s) to whom you are speaking. It’s amazing to watch others react to your words about them, and to learn what traits you have for which others are grateful.
- Write in a gratitude journal. Making a commitment to writing down good things each day makes it more likely that we will notice good things as they happen.
- Write letters of gratitude to people in your community. Write a short note to people you interact with regularly, like the bus driver or the cafeteria staff. Or people you don’t see but are a recipient of their efforts, like the maintenance staff at school, mail person, garbage collector or bank teller. Take it to an even greater level, and bake some cupcakes and drop them at the local police or fire stations, or other facility for which you are grateful.
- Create a gratitude box. Commit to writing down at least one thing for which you are grateful and drop it in a box. When you are having a bad day, or feeling like nothing is going right, grab some cards and remember how there’s always something in your life that is good.