Gratitude. A new route to mindfulness?

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Are we all a bit too ungrateful for what we have in life these days? It may be an intangible topic but at a time when we’re now all ‘always on’ and our society pushes consumerist fodder in our faces 24/7, are we stopping to appreciate anything anymore? What a bleak outlook, I hear you cry! But I ask you, dear reader, when was the last time you took a moment to be grateful for 3 things in your day? It could be the cup of tea your colleague made you, or stealing a kiss from your partner before you went to work.

I am one of those people who has started to forget what is good and often focus on what I don’t have. I know I’m not the only one scrolling through Instagram coveting the lives of the rich and famous – they don’t exactly keep it a secret from us. We have crested the peak of the saying, “we want what we can’t have”. But the funny thing is, many of us don’t know why we want these things and why they would make us happy.

I came across the concept of gratitude a few months ago. It’s all thanks to Oprah Winfrey. And now I am hooked. Gratitude is an attitude and way of living that has been shown to have many benefits in terms of healthhappiness, satisfaction with life, and the way we relate to others. It goes hand in hand with mindfulness in its focus on the present and appreciation for what we have now, rather than wanting more and more. Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brains’ natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life. 

A recent Harvard University study has officially linked the act of being grateful with increased happiness. The study reported that after 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Oprah kept a gratitude journal which she’d write in every day for 10 years without fail. It helped her to be in the moment and to stop and notice her success. Recently though, she admitted that she’d stopped journaling. More recently she wondered why she no longer felt the joy of simple moments. She says, ‘Since 1996 I had accumulated more wealth, more responsibility, more possessions; everything, it seemed, had grown exponentially—except my happiness. How had I, with all my options and opportunities, become one of those people who never have time to feel delight? I was stretched in so many directions, I wasn’t feeling much of anything. Too busy doing.’ She is now back to journaling – electronically. She says, ‘You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots.’ She’s got a point. What’s the use in doing anything, working hard in a job, raising a family, being in love, unless you can be present and soak it in?

A month ago I began writing a gratitude journal of 3 things I am grateful for every day. I do it at night right before I go to bed. I realised almost immediately how much happier and content I became before I turned out the light. It has been quite easy to find little gems of sunshine in my day that I should be logging into my memory. What’s changed since journaling? My perspective is shifting to the positive. That’s not to say that negative thoughts don’t come but they dissipate much more quickly.

There is a myriad of things that can be done to overcome negative feelings and it’s clear that a change in perspective leads to positive change in our lives, careers and those of others. We should all try gratitude as a route to mindfulness! If it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for us.

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