The Spirit-Raising Boost that Giving Thanks Will Give You (& The Science Behind It)
There are plenty of times during the year when we decide we’re going to have a fresh start, and either cut out something bad or start something new: for instance, after a birthday, we decide we’re going to spend more time with friends. Or starting Monday, we’ll stop eating desserts – or January 1st, we’ll start saving 10% of each paycheck. Another favorite: next month, we’ll take the stairs.
Whatever your chosen milestone or reason is, I recommend taking up gratefulness, or gratitude, to accomplish it. Let me explain.
Last year, right before Lent, I was living between a constant state of feeling sorry for myself and being outright angry about some personal and professional challenges. All that negativity was getting to me, and I needed to do something about it.
When one of my yoga classes started with the instructor expressing gratitide, encouraging us to spend our practice being grateful for our bodies, my initial reaction was like (probably) many others in the class: “Be thankful for my love handles and cellulite?” But as I moved through that practice, I tried to focus on all the good things. I started saying to myself, “There are lots of people who can’t touch their toes, and I’m grateful my body can bend like that,” and I realized by the end that I meant it. So after that, I chose Lent as a set period of time where I was going to be grateful for something every day.
A week later, I began my 40-day grateful challenge, and it truly changed my outlook on life. I found that it was the best five minute investment I could make in myself, every day. It turned my negativity into action. And then I felt my attitude and my life turn around.
So I encourage you to try it. Here’s a simple plan: six weeks, five minutes and one sentence a day. A little more than three hours over the course of forty days will change your outlook, and will be the best expenditure you can make this year. It’s simple and worthwhile. And the reason it feels good is that there is actual science to back it up: a recent NY Magazine article explains that brain adapts in response to the feel-good flood of appreciation and thanks, now coming in a regular basis.
What You’ll Discover:
- It will always lift your spirits. When you’re crabby, writing down what you’re grateful for is the equivalent of “looking for the silver lining.” And eventually, your outlook on life will start to change, because, even though it sounds like a cliché, the truth is, you’re focusing on the positive, not the negative.
- Your relationships will improve. When I took the time to be grateful for my brother, I forgot about all the things we don’t have (we don’t talk very often; we’re six years apart, and not very close). Instead, however, I started focusing on the things we do have (we totally get each other’s weird, nerdy humor). Lesson: we typically forget to tell people that we appreciate them — so when we take time to remember, and do tell them, it’s meaningful.
- You’ll start looking forward to it. Your five minutes of reflection can be a totally safe haven, where it’s just you, thinking about good stuff that makes you happy. Who wouldn’t want to do that every day?
- You’ll find yourself grateful for a lot of things every day. The first few weeks were tough. There were many days I felt like I had nothing to be grateful for. But, by the end, I found myself so grateful for so many things in my life, it was hard to stick to just one a day!
- You’ll become appreciative of everything in your life just a little more. Your outlook on life really will change. You’ll stop focusing on the negative things in your life, and start focusing on the things that really matter. All kinds of things — from the sound of birds chirping because it means it’s spring, to your family and friends, to the Wright brothers (yes, I actually am grateful to the Wright brothers – where would we be without airplanes?).
How to Do It:
- Pick a time and a place. (Lent worked for me because it was a set schedule.) Maybe yours however is the month after your birthday, or Memorial Day to Labor Day. Whatever your dates, commit to them.
- Each day, write down what you’re grateful for and why. It doesn’t matter where you write it down; pick a place that works for you. A wall calendar, a notepad, Twitter – wherever will work for you. Just be consistent. It’s this simple: “Today I’m grateful for_____because_____” and finish the sentence. “Today I’m grateful for seeing this SharpHeels article, because I’m excited now about starting a grateful journey.” The trick here is to not write something just because you are supposed to. Write something that you are actually happy about. It can be significant, like your parents, or it can be something small, like finding $5 in your pocket.
- Don’t let it add stress. So you forgot to do it yesterday; who cares? So what if you’re grateful for the same thing today as you were yesterday? This is about your journey, and you’re the only one who can judge if you’re doing it right. Don’t let it stress you out — just enjoy the activity.
- Tell people that you appreciate them. Parents, friends, colleagues, significant other — tell them when you’re grateful for them. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and yes, it can be a text. “Hey Emily – thanks for being really supportive over the last few weeks. You’re a great friend, and I am lucky to have you in my life.”
- Review and reflect. Take a look at what you wrote over the last week. What does it say about you and where you are in life right now? By the end, you’ll see yourself in a light that maybe you don’t see when you’re trying to rush through your day-to-day. Maybe you’ll see patterns you didn’t expect to see. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself.