What is the power of gratitude?
The modern world is fraught with what the philosopher Pascal called "Divertissement", which we can roughly translate as "diversion" or "distraction"or "entertainment". Although it may be fun to watch a movie or go to a show when we are constantly distracted it is very hard to focus and see things clearly. When we don't look inward in a state of calm we cannot see things in their true perspective.
Both anxiety and depression stem from seeing the world from a distorted perspective. When we are anxious we look at the world from the perspective of someone who is only anticipating catastrophes. When we are depressed we mainly experience the negative aspects of life.
If you feel unclear, unfocused, or even worse, anxious, low or overwhelmed this article is for you. By shifting the way you look at things you can shift the way you think. When your mindset changes you can feel happier and more satisfied. If you want to feel more empowered and positive start by developing a simple practice and applying the exercises I will suggest to you in this article.
You probably have heard how important it is to be grateful. But what is gratitude? And how can you stop thinking: how do I get over the mindset of thinking the practice of gratitude as a mushy act?
If you are like me you may find it hard to even think about things to be grateful for. Especially when you are not in a good place it may seem like the hardest thing to do to find something to be thankful for. People may suggest you reflect on how privileged you are because if you are reading this you have a computer, a house, running water and food on your table and many don't. But feeling guilty for not being already happy when you have so much more than others won't help you.
What you need to do is shift your perspective completely, so read on to find out where to start.
What to focus your gratitude practice on
You may have heard that the best thing to do is to keep a gratitude journal but if you don't know how to approach it, this can be a daunting task. Although it is good to think about all the little things you are grateful for in your life, the practice of being grateful is not simply about writing down a list of what you are happy to have in your life and leaving it there.
You may already know gratitude improves happiness, health, and helps you think more clearly but how does it do that? By transforming your perception of the past, the present, and the future.
Your past is not fixed.
Most of us think of the past and notice what went wrong. We think about what we would have wanted to have happened and what actually happened. We see what is missing. We also measure ourselves up against our ideals and always fall short. Instead of noticing the progress we have made we become attached to specific outcomes and when we don't get them we feel cheated. Even when we succeed at something we may just focus on the undesired effects we didn't anticipate.
Another common practice is to blame our past for who we are now. We may fixate on all the ways our parents failed us. Or remember how our partner or friends didn't measure up to our expectations. The problem with this attitude is that it traps us in the past and make us victims, unable to change our present and therefore our future. It also forces us to think about all the things we cannot change and that encourages us to develop a negative fixed mindset.
Whatever you feed grows. So how do we stop feeding misery and start feeding satisfaction and overall contentment with life even when what happened to us in the past was traumatic?
It is not the negative experiences that cause trauma, it is the way we choose to process them. You may have heard of Post-Traumatic Growth: it is basically the opposite of Post-Traumatic Stress. People who become better from unimaginably negative events do so because they turn those experiences into something that has made them grow and has allowed them to serve others with similar issues.
No matter how harrowing the events of your past, and no matter what emotional impact those events have had on you, they only exist in your memory. And you are in charge of how you choose to remember what happened. You are in control of how you tell the story and whether to make the narrative empowering or disempowering.
You decide what meaning to give to what happened and how to colour events in a light that helps you overcome challenges. So you can choose to remember the pain or you can choose to focus on the gain. You can choose to view your past from a perspective that inspires you towards resilience and moving forward or you can choose to let it destroy you.
To learn how to do this you download the free workbook below where you will find some practical exercises to shift your perspective of your past, present and future.
The Transformative Gratitude Journal
3 Exercises to Bring Happiness to your Life
How can you practice gratitude in the present?
Just like the past, the present is subjective, and how you interpret your circumstances will determine whether you flourish or you wilt. Circumstances can be seen as obstacles that stop you from getting what you want, or opportunities to become stronger, wiser and a better person.
People that have easy lives don't always have great depth of character or a deep capacity for empathy. We learn by overcoming challenges and learning from 'failures'. If you focus on the gap between what you are and what you want to be, or the gap between what you have and what you want to have, you will be miserable no matter who you are or what you have. You could be a millionaire but if you focus on that gap, it will never be enough.
So what do you need to do instead? When looking at the circumstances of your life choose to appreciate what is good about where you are at right now. Focus on the positive resources, opportunities and people you have around you. And if you are having trouble appreciating something that is currently troublesome to you, either think about how much you'd miss it if they were suddenly gone forever or reflect on the lesson it is trying to teach you.
More importantly though, focus on what you are truly capable of. Ask yourself these questions:
- What can you do to impact your surroundings?
- What can you learn that will help you move forward?
- How resourceful can you be?
- What can you do today to get going in the direction you wish to pursue?
When you stop focusing on what has not yet manifested, and instead concentrate on what you want to create you begin to shift your perspective. Instead of wasting energy on complaining about the difficulties in your life you use the same energy to appreciate what you have so you can improve it.
Stop avoiding reality through compulsive consuming and distraction.
Focus on creating something better instead. Create a story in which you play the positive role of change maker. You get to write your own story, so make it empowering, instead of a tragedy.
Circumstances can be seen as obstacles that stop you from getting what you want, or opportunities to become stronger, wiser and a better person.
Is gratitude the key to success in the future?
So now you have changed the past and the present how do you change the future?
Before you can build a house you need to be able to imagine it. Then you need to trust it is within your power to build it. Finally you make a plan, put one brick down after another and deal with whatever happens in the construction process.
The same is for creating any type of future. What you are in control of is your intention, your belief, and your actions to make it happen. You cannot control the outcome so you will need to simply trust you can deal with whatever outcome does manifest.
So the first step is to use visualisation to imagine what it is you what you want to create. After you intention is set and you have taken action you need to let go of specific outcomes. Where does gratitude fit in to this?
When you infuse your visualisations with positive emotions such as the belief that the best future for you is already on its way and gratitude that you will inevitably succeed, you trigger a mental and emotional state that will prime you operate at a much higher level. This will help you create the very future you want to have.
Rather than be defined by what happened in the past, when you choose to believe that a positive future is possible and you are thankful for it you are more able to face the challenges ahead and make way towards making your dreams a reality.
In the free workbook below you will find a simple exercise that will help you put these principles into practice.
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