Got the Winter Blues? Easy Ways to Start a Gratitude Practice & Promote Mental Resilience
Gratitude: I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. I know, you might be rolling your eyes. You hear about gratitude all the time these days. I get it, life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns and you’ve got external demands that are more important to worry about. If you read this blog post, you’ll know that gratitude and love are everything to me. And it might not be as much fluff as it is actually practical. So please, just hear me out…
What if I told you that by becoming more grateful it would actually make you more resilient and capable of meeting your demands? And what if I also told you that gratitude will make you more confident and creative in advancing your life instead of getting sucked into the trap of simply maintaining status quo. And what if I told you that there’s science that proves that implementing a gratitude practice leads to lower levels of anxiety and depression and higher levels of life satisfaction?
I believe that gratitude is the gateway to connection, confidence, contribution, and authentic happiness.
“Ok that’s all fine and good Jasleen,” you say, “but how the heck do I become this grateful version of myself overnight?” Well, you don’t. But if you are committed to taking a few minutes a day or even per week, you’ll start to see changes before long. First, do a bit of a self-assessment of when you feel gratitude. Take a minute, and think of 2 or 3 times when you’ve felt the most grateful in your life. This will help you choose a gratitude practice that is most effective for you.
When Are We Most Grateful?
It’s funny how in my life I’ve experienced more gratitude in situations that have been especially challenging.
Like when my twin boys were born premature following an emergent and life-threatening delivery. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel gratitude that deeply. It can be an awe-inspiring and life-affirming feeling.
Temperatures in Edmonton have been dipping below -20°C for weeks now. You would think this would make it impossible to channel grateful vibes. For me, it has brought more awareness of what I have to be grateful for: a warm, comfortable home, the financial means to travel to warmer climates, and small luxuries like my parka and remote car starter.
Last week, driving home from a family dinner I noticed a woman on the side of the road collecting donations for food and shelter. It had to be -30°C with the wind chill. Can you imagine if that were you? I mean let go of judgement for a second of how she ended up there, and really just imagine if you had to try and survive the night in that cold.
On the flip side, I can recall being extremely grateful when travelling to parts of the world that have taken my breath away, like Bora Bora or the African Serengeti as examples.
The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience. – Mark Manson
Take that in for a minute. If you read Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, you get what it means.
What I’ve observed is we tend to be more grateful during the extremes of our lives, during the highs and lows. Maybe this is because there are too many emotions to make room for desire. For most of us our highs and lows are infrequent and most days we coast within the normal range of emotional experiences. So, if we aren’t emotionally triggered to be grateful, how do we cultivate gratitude on the regular? And what about those of us who, even during the extremes, have been conditioned to frame the experience as negative. It’s not always an automatic response to feel gratitude, especially when dealing with major life trauma. And in today’s day and age we are distracted from experiencing gratitude even in our happiest moments because we are caught up in comparison, or living a skewed version of life through our screens.
In my heart, I know it’s possible for anyone to cultivate a mindset of gratitude, no matter your experience or personality. It’s just a matter of retraining your brain.
Below I’ve come up with a quick, easy list to help you start a gratitude practice today to help refocus your brain on what is good and what matters, instead of life’s problems and stress:
1. Dinner Table Dialogue
This is one of my favourites. When my family sits down for dinner together (which I admit is rare these days), we go around the table and say one thing we’re grateful for that day. For younger kids, you can also ask, “what was the best part of your day?” For the parents out there, it’s also a helpful tip to diffuse arguments and distract them from the broccoli they are avoiding on their plate. Even better, when someone shares a positive experience, ask them why they think it went so well. You’ll see one reason why I suggest asking why when you read #4. This also helps children build self-efficacy, which is a trait we don’t develop enough, even as adults. To me, this is the most important gift we can offer our children. Raising kids who believe in their own abilities helps us “walk the talk” and let go of our own excuses. By building their awareness of how capable they are, we also teach them to solve problems on their own instead of always running to us (more free time and fewer distractions – yay!).
2. Gratitude Meditation
Take some quiet time, just for you to close your eyes, do some deep breathing, maybe light a candle or incorporate essential oils and focus on what you’re grateful for. This is a great way to start the day and set the tone, take a break midday from the stresses in your life, or decompress at the end of a busy day.
3. Help those in Need
For most of us, this might be hard to do on a large scale every single day. But you can schedule opportunities to give back that you can get involved in with friends and family, like a food or clothing drive. Then, think on a smaller scale for things you can do more often. For example, our family donates preemie clothes and other items to the NICU at the Children’s hospital once/ year and on the boys’ birthday we also raise money for the Children’s hospital. I volunteer there when I can as well to help families who are transitioning from “surviving” to “thriving”. It makes me feel good about giving back, and seeing how far my own family has come, or in many cases how we were lucky, makes me feel gratitude. It’s hard to ignore that most kids who are diagnosed with the type of cancer my son had (neuroblastoma) require more aggressive treatment, and in some cases (approximately 20%) die. I’m not going to lie; in the beginning I felt a sense of guilt, (perhaps a mild form of survivor guilt by proxy). Giving back when I can has helped me immensely with this.
4. Keep a Gratitude Journal
I personally find journaling has many benefits. It brings more clarity, helps sort through emotions, and it serves as a way to track progress against your overall goals. If you already keep a journal, it’s easy to quickly jot down what you are grateful for every day as well. Our culture and evolution conditions us to experience anxiety by looking for what is bad, but we don’t often think about what is good. If you really want to get the most bang for your buck, try this:
Make a t-table and in the left-hand column capture “What Went Well” that day or week, and in the right-hand column ask “Why did that happen?” So for example, you might list that you were particularly productive one day. The reason why could be that you turned off distractions, or your significant other gave you space to get some work done after dinner. Martin Seligman (The Founding Father of the field of Positive Psychology) and others at the Positive Psychology Centre conducted a double-blind study (i.e the gold standard test) where one group did this exercise for 6 months and saw higher life satisfaction scores, lower depression and lower anxiety rates than the control group.
5. Display Pictures that Evoke Gratitude
Have pictures visible at home or in your office where you felt extremely grateful. Just taking a minute to reflect on an experience and why it was so worthwhile will remind you what you have to be grateful for and what memories you’re planning for in the future. This doesn’t just go for experiences: who are the people in your life you are most grateful for? Make sure they’re in those pictures too. This might be a no-brainer, but how many times do you tell yourself you’re going to sort through the millions of pictures on your phone and actually print off the best ones?
6. Write & Send Gratitude Letters
Set aside time once a quarter or around significant events to write gratitude cards or letters to important people in your life or people you’ve seen make a valuable contribution. You might even think about someone you may not have spoken to for a long time who made an impact on you, perhaps even changed your life. Write them a letter that describes all the ways they influenced you and had a positive impact on your life. This is a great way to create a ripple effect of gratitude and love! It also is a great way to maintain important relationships that you might take for granted.
Ok, so now if your inner critic is still thinking “nah, gratitude schmatitude – it just ain’t my thing,” – trust me it might feel weird and forced at first but it gets easier and eventually you’ll notice a change. I pinky promise! So pick just one and try it out. Ask a friend or your family to participate with you and think of creative ways to make it fun!
I’d love to hear how it goes!
Also, if you have other creative and easy ideas for implementing a gratitude practice please share them in the comments below! I’ll update this list at least once per year incorporating them all.
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