To You reading this right now..
I want to begin this blog post by thanking you for reading it. In a world bombarded with information, you’re giving your precious time and attention to my words and I am deeply, genuinely grateful.
In case you think I’m having a selfless moment, let me confess that I wrote the previous paragraph to see if it would make me feel good. I’ve just been reading studies that say expressing gratitude is one of the quickest, most powerful ways to increase feelings of well-being.
It’s totally working!
By stopping to give thanks, I redirected my attention from my small, trudging self to you, wherever you are. I feel connected and supported. I’m suddenly aware of community, of the shared interests that have drawn us together. My heart literally feels warm and fuzzy. And I know that this sensation can work wonders, not just in my inner life, but in everything I do.
A few weeks ago, grateful living helped me shift my perspective. What I’m about to share is such a small example, but was truly transformative for me. My eldest son recently left for Israel. Usually, weekends are a big deal for us – we have guests over, I love cooking, etc. But because my babysitter didn’t arrive, I said that I’d start my cooking on Thursday evening. I was in such a bad state of mind and missing my eldest son, that while I was chopping my potatoes on Friday morning, I happened to slice off the top of my finger! Ari immediately called a doctor who came to our house and sent me right away to a plastic surgeon. Thankfully, I had no nerve damage.
Now here’s the beautiful part: The entire time, I kept practicing gratitude. “Thank you God that Ari is home. Thank you that it happened early in the morning, that the plastic surgeon was around, that it happened on my third finger and not my thumb.” My gratefulness was automatic. I started seeing everything that went right and not what went wrong. My old self would be in misery and complaining, but not this time. It just wasn’t an option. During the entire weekend I just kept counting my blessings. This is the power of gratitude – it becomes your second nature. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t in pain. Of course, I was. But my gratitude outweighed the pain naturally, to the degree that I didn’t even realise I was even doing it! We don’t have to live our lives without gratitude. Gratefulness truly, truly helps us in moments of crisis. That evening, I felt so loved and taken care of by God. I felt so loved that my finger was healing, that I had received care and that my practice of gratefulness was so automatic, that it kept me going.
So what does gratitude actually do for us?
Robert Emmons often speaks about how those who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis also exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).
There’s no emotion quite like genuine gratitude. I spent years trying to live a grateful life. I felt guilty for the privileges I’d been given, and afraid of insulting people if I didn’t thank them. What I didn’t know is that we literally can’t feel negative emotions like guilt or fear at the same time we’re feeling gratitude. They’re mutually exclusive.
Real gratitude comes from awareness of abundance, appreciation of pleasure, and awe. To feel it, find something that pleases you, like a really good cup of coffee, a favorite work of art, or a pet. For a minute, put all your attention on the sensations you feel when you’re enjoying these things. Let the rest of the world fall away.
It’s not just the appreciation you feel, but the release of all other thoughts and feelings, that catalyzes the gratitude’s magical power. It’s easy to simply list five good things in your life—you can do it while feeling distracted or anxious. I think that’s why the gratitude-journal subjects didn’t see an increase in happiness. On the other hand, writing a letter of thanks requires extended focus, which is why people who did this as part of a study had a huge increase in happiness.
A gratitude practice, then, requires not just that we say thanks for all the good stuff in our lives, but that we slow down, focus, and immerse ourselves in the good feelings we associate with the stuff.
If you decide to launch your own gratitude practice, I give thanks for your company. If you don’t, I give thanks that you’re following your own path. I really do. And once again, I am so grateful that you took the time to read these words.
It’s still totally working..
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