Positive psychology research has shown that having an attitude of gratitude can help people to experience more positive emotions, (simply put to feel happy) and it can lead to improvements in health, happiness and improved relationships. If you’re feeling down, one of the best ways to feel up again, is to engage with feelings of gratitude.
There are several well known interventions such as the ‘gratitude diary’, ‘count your blessings’ and ‘savouring’, all of which are designed to help you appreciate the small but valuable things that happen in day to day life. The world leading scientific expert on the subject of gratitude is Dr Robert Emmons who has written several excellent books on the subject (some on these listed in Positive Psychology Learning’s bookshop page). However, as effective as these interventions are, how do you get in touch with feelings of gratitude when you feel preoccupied with deadlines to meet, bills to pay and stress and anxiety is the most prevalent feeling you are experiencing?
Please don’t imagine that because I work in the field of wellbeing that I am immune to negative feelings, after all you wouldn’t be shocked to find out that your GP had a cold or a headache would you? It’s true, I do have the advantage of the resources and tools I have learnt from the study of positive psychology but sometimes, even though I know what I should do and could do, it feels in total opposition to what I want to do at the time.Sometimes even with the best of positive intentions it just seems too hard to feel grateful when our mind simply doesn’t want to notice the good, because it’s too preoccupied with what feels bad.
So, here are 3 tips that I have found help me to get over my resistance and lead me to a more positive mindset. They might work for you too.
1. My Fairy Godmother
I imagine I have a fairy godmother who is vigilent on removing anything unpleasant from my life and she takes action whenever she hears me complain in words or thoughts. However, although she has a perfectly good intention she tends to take what I say quite literally and solves my problems in ways that will leaving feeling worse off than I was before.
For instance –
- I say -‘I hate driving in the rush hour’ – Tah-da! She takes my car away and I have to get the bus
- I say – ‘I can’t decide what to wear’ – Tah-da! Suddenly my wardrobe empties and now I have a choice of 3 outfits and one pair of shoes.
- I say – ‘The weather is so hot’ – Tah-da! It rains for a month.
I’m sure you get the picture, this exercise is intended to be done with a sense of humour. It helps to remind me what life would be like without the things I complain about and then, I feel grateful for them.
2. Who made this possible?
If you ever think that you are totally independent or that you have to cope with things on your own, try this exercise. I do it for fun sometimes because it’s a real eye-opener to the reality of how many people we depend upon every single day of our lives.
Wherever you are right now, take a moment to look around you. Choose any object you see and ask yourself, ‘Who made this possible?’ Then do the same with one or two other things. The likelihood is you will quickly discover that thousands of people have been involved in designing, producing and manufacturing the everyday things we tend to take for granted.
Now imagine your life if they were taken away and you were left with only with the things you’d made and created yourself. What have you got left? At a guess, I’d say probably nothing or very little!
No furniture, no technology and very little food unless you grow it yourself and who do you rely on for your heating, power and water supplies? Even something as simple as enjoying a slice of toast involves hundreds of people. Think about the farmers, bakers, delivery people, shopkeepers and so on. If you want butter and jam as well as the toast, then we need the cooperation of hundreds more people and it’s not just people we rely on either, but animals plants and nature.
The truth is that we are relient on thousands of people for our very basic standard of living but because we never see most of them we can fool ourselves into believing that we don’t need anyone. There may be some people in the world who are self-sufficient but their world looks very different from ours and I doubt whether you would want to swap. Thinking about what your life might be like without this invisible army, may help you to realise that you have lots of help and support and you never ever coping completely alone even though it feels like it and yes, you might feel grateful.
3. Think back to an unpleasant time in your life
Think back to an unpleasant time in your life (if you can’t think of any– well that’s a great reason to feel grateful!). Even during the most torrid times there is usually something to feel grateful for even if it’s just the relief you feel when the situation is over and you’ve recovered from it.
When I look back at some of the less pleasant events in my life I can feel grateful for the friends and family that supported me through difficult times. It helps me to realise that setbacks are nearly always temporary and sometimes even result in things being even better afterwards than they were before. For instance, redundancy might lead to getting a better job; illness may help you appreciate your health and its through times of adversity that we gain resources like resilience and new coping skills – like finding ways to feel grateful when you simply don’t!
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