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Cultivating Gratitude

Posted 29 Jul '16 by Gill Wier

Pause for a moment and think back over your day so far….for which moment are you most grateful? 

What difference would it make if you were able to develop an attitude of gratitude?  Religions such as Buddhism and Christianity have been encouraging their followers to express gratitude for centuries.  Now research has shown* that people who practice gratitude have higher levels of happiness, a stronger immune system, greater resilience when faced with difficult life experiences and stronger relationships. Seems that the old saying about “counting your blessings” is wise indeed! 

When we are feeling depressed or anxious our minds tend to focus on our negative experiences.  Over time our memories can even become biased so that we forget positive times or find it hard to recall and reconnect with happy memories.  Practicing gratitude on a daily basis helps train our brain to notice and focus on positives, giving us a more balanced perspective on life.

Choosing to be thankful can feel counter intuitive if you are going through a difficult time and I’m not suggesting we pretend that bad things are good but even in the midst of adversity there is usually at least one thing we can be thankful for.

Here is a simple exercise you can try using at the end of the day to help you express gratitude.  We experience the world through our senses so this exercise helps us connect with each of our five senses, enabling us to shift focus from our minds, which are often full of negative and anxious thoughts, to our bodily experience.

Thinking back over the past day, for which sight are you most grateful?

It could be seeing the sun set, a butterfly landing on a leaf, a picture your child drew, a smile on a friend’s face….

For which smell are you most grateful?

Examples might be a steaming cup of coffee, fresh air as you opened the front door this morning, freshly baked bread as you walked past the bakery, the familiar smell of your partner’s perfume….

For which touch are you most grateful?

Perhpas it was a cuddle from your small child, stroking your cat, sinking into the sofa at the end of a long day, holding your partner’s hand….

For which sound are you most grateful?

It might be a favourite song playing on the radio, a baby’s laugh, birdsong, water running as you fill the bath tub….

For which taste are you most grateful?

Think back to which foods and drinks you have most enjoyed today.  Perhaps you tried something new or ate a favourite food…. 

Take your time over this exercise and savour each memory.  You may find it helpful to write down your answers in a notebook so that you can look back over all you are grateful for at times when life feels bleak.  If you live with others you might enjoy sharing this exercise together during your evening meal. It’s something children can join in with very easily – help them to cultivate gratitude from an early age!

Try doing this exercise every day for a week and see what difference it makes to your perspective on life!

* Further reading: Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Dr Robert Emmons