When obstacles get in the way of us moving forward, or if we are feeling stuck, frustrated, alone or afraid, it’s difficult to step back to see positive forces at work in our lives and the toll it takes on our mental health. However, these are the best times to seek out reasons to be grateful. Of course, it is not necessary to be grateful for what has us stuck. No, we should be appreciating what exists to help propel us forward. Practicing gratitude can change our perspective and help us see our situation in a way that is unique. It can dissipate feelings of anxiety and open up our minds to inspire creative ways of resolving problems. There are major benefits to practicing gratitude which have been proven through many research studies, in which findings show that focusing on the positive can boost our mood, aid in better sleep quality and even improve the way our immune system functions. When we can see the good as well as the bad, it shifts our focus away from complaining and digging ourselves deeper into a funk.
Just for a few moments, consider the things you have to be grateful for. Perhaps it is the encouraging relationships in your life, your material possessions, your health, or the brain that helps you understand yourself and the world around you. Just breathe and be grateful for the air that is filling your lungs and making your life possible or the sun on your skin that warms you on a chilly day. Simply feeling your body and your aliveness, and acknowledge what a miracle it is just to be alive in this moment can pull you out of a downward spiral of ruminating thoughts. Allow this mindfulness to make you aware of what you are seeing, smelling, and touching at this place and time. By being appreciative of what you have, you will find yourself present in your life without much effort required.
Gratitude fills the heart and moves you from constraining fear to growth and love. When you’re appreciating something, there is no room for your ego to get in the way. Your attention cannot be occupied by your ego and feelings of thankfulness at the same time. It is not necessary to seek out purely astounding moments in order to find happiness. The only thing you have to do is pay attention to the now and find something positive to acknowledge. Everyday that you wake up is a gift; it’s another chance to evolve and turn things around. Starting your day with this attitude creates an opportunity to switch gears on a fundamentally spiritual level.
Gratitude can be powerfully transformative because it helps us realize what we have. It lessens our need for wanting more. This doesn’t mean that we do not see that there is suffering. Rather, when we can also see that there is something to be grateful for as well as what causes pain, we have a reason hold it together. Often, all it takes is writing a few lines each week about things that make you feel grateful. This can help you to feel more optimistic and better about your life as a whole. Mindfulness is the first step to acknowledging the things you can write about. It is a tool that is influential on the way to shift your mood and open to the flow of resources that surround you that can eliminate feelings of depression, loneliness or isolation. In feeling much more connected with the flow of life, the goings on in the world outside of your head helps you realize that you don’t have to be alone as your fight your battles.
There are many benefits to helping you reframe your outlook by focusing on what you have instead of what you have-not. However, not all problems are little annoyances that you need to simply divert your attention away from. There are larger issues that emerge in life that require assessment, although focusing your attention on what you have may provide some relief from the stress of more serious problems, such relief is only be temporary. In situations, like these, a negative emotion like anger may actually be more constructive to work with as a motivator for change.
Also, don’t let your appreciation for what you have get in the way of appropriately taking credit for your own part in your success or standing up for having your needs met. Gratitude can be the positive emotion you feel when someone else helps you out. Feeling in debt to someone, on the other hand, generally leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth if someone helped you and now the expectation is that you owe something. If you confuse feelings of gratitude for being in debt to someone, you may find yourself working hard to take that weight off your shoulders. Take a step back so that you can gain some insight on the situation. Try to have your focus rest in quality of the interaction over measurements of “how much” and “how many”.
Special equipment isn’t necessary for actively being mindful about thankfulness. The real work goes on in your head and heart. However, here is a fun art therapy project that is a great way to exercise your gratitude practice.
Art Therapy Project
What are you grateful for? Use small scraps of paper, fabric or poster board, old clothing tags and create flags for a Gratitude Banner. Decorate, collage, paint and write on the flag about what you are grateful for and then tie string, yarn or ribbon through a punched hole on the flag / card. Add each flag to a piece of string or cloth that you can hang up for display. For added benefit, create a flag once a week to add to the banner or invite friends and family to contribute. Then hang it up somewhere where you can enjoy looking at it and be reminded of all that you have to be thankful for.