For quite a long period of my life, mostly when I had M.E. and the years preceding my diagnosis, I would often dwell on what was wrong in my life. I would pick everything apart and I would really struggle to find anything that was right. I would constantly be focusing on the fatigue I felt, and every ache and pain in my body. The first time this thought pattern was challenged was when I attended a Reiki One course. During the training course, I learned the five Reiki Principles, one of which was “Show gratitude for every living thing”. It was explained to me that we would often focus on what was wrong, and yet we could promote a more positive lifestyle by acknowledging all the good things in our lives. Upon hearing this, I felt it sounded terribly twee, but I also acknowledged that focusing on all the negative was really making me feel unhappy.
“… I didn’t have to be grateful about the big things in life, I could focus on the small things”
So, I decided to start noticing more of the good stuff in each day. One of the things I observed was that I didn’t have to be grateful about the big things in life, I could focus on the small things. I was never very good if someone paid me a compliment, but now I would acknowledge and say “thank you”. I started noticing if someone made eye contact and smiled, and I would smile back. I started noticing beautiful sunsets. I also began to notice a difference in my aches and pains too – the intensity changed from day to day. The interesting thing about this was that I had always grouped in every day as feeling “bad” but now I realised that some days were better than others.
“You really start taking in the beauty that is around you”
There are so many brilliant things about noticing the things that are good, you become much more aware of moment to moment living. You really start taking in the beauty that is around you. Often, when I was walking around outside, I walked with my head down, staring at the ground. Now I wanted to take in everything around me: notice every tree, every flower. I also became more aware of how often I cursed things when they went wrong, such as the car breaking down, yet I never really appreciated it when it worked the rest of the time. I decided to start the day with a simple “thanks” to the shower! I just found it incredible that the gas, electricity and water came together and gave me the most awesome shower every day – all I had to do was switch it on! My mental health started to improve too. Everyone around told me I seemed much more positive about everything.
The science bit
There are now quite a few scientific studies that demonstrate the power of gratitude. According to a 2012 study, grateful people are less likely to feel aches and pains and are more likely to look after their health. Another piece of research shows that gratitude can increase happiness and reduce depression. Other studies have shown gratitude to be effective in: relationships; self-esteem; empathy; sleep; reducing aggression; and over-coming trauma. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude
“Things that make me happy” jar
A few years ago, I decided to put a jar in my kitchen which was labelled “things that make me happy”. I explained to my sons and husband the idea was to notice really cool things about one another and experiences we have, write them down and pop them in the jar. They didn’t look too impressed by the idea! So, I decided I would still go ahead and pop the notes in the jar anyway. Well, the jar began to fill up. And at the end of the year we opened the jar. I was gobsmacked at how many notes they had popped in the jar. There was so much that they noticed. We had such a fun time reading them back. So much so, they asked if they could do it again. What I loved about reading them back each time is we got to relive so many amazing memories from the year before.
I have learned so much from taking “an attitude to gratitude”. I have learned that life, nor the world, is perfect. Neither am I perfect. Nor are the people in my life are perfect. Focusing on the good does not make me ignore the bad, but it means I can view the bad in a much more balanced way. Sometimes I even say “thanks” to the challenging times of life as I know there will be something I will be learning from the situation. But one of the best things I have learned is to also have gratitude to “me” and what I offer to my little part of the world. Again, celebrating the small stuff and giving myself a mental pat on the back.
A gratitude meditation – “just for today, just for this moment”
This type of meditation can be a bit of a challenge at first, as our mind can automatically be drawn to the negatives rather than the positives. But if you find just one thing to feel positive about, well, that can only be a good thing.
- Start by finding a comfortable place to sit or lie. Be aware of any part of your body making contact with the surface it is resting on.
- Close your eyes, or rest your eyes on a non-moving spot (i.e. floor or wall).
- Connect with breath coming in and out of your body. Be aware of the sensory quality of your breath. Or, label the breath, i.e.”in”, “out”
- Just for this day, just for this moment say “thanks” to your breath. The natural air that you breathe in and out. It is with you all the time.
- Now, just for today, just for this moment say “thanks” to your body. Often we can focus on the pain or discomfort, or what is wrong in our bodies. But you have the opportunity to be in your body and to live this life. So, just for today, just for this moment, acknowledge at least one thing that is good about your body.
- Just for today, just for this moment, say “thanks” to your life. There are ups and downs, twists and turns and we can often focus on what is wrong. But just for this moment, focus on what has been good about today. Maybe think about this time you are giving to yourself right now. Time you are taking for yourself. Or maybe the kids got up on time. Or you had a lovely cup of coffee. So, just for today, just for this moment acknowledge at least one thing that has been good about today.
- Just for today, just for this moment, say “thanks” to all the people who support you and love you. Often, we want support and love to come from a particular direction and we miss the support and love that is there for us. So maybe say “thanks” to someone who has gone the extra mile for you at some point in your life. Or maybe a pet that gives you absolute unconditional love.
- Just for today, just for this moment, say “thanks” to all the wonderful things in your life that you can’t do without. There might be the obvious things like your phone or car, but there maybe other things like your hairdryer or kettle! We often curse things when they go wrong, but just for today, just for this moment just focus on the things that go right.
- Just for today, just for this moment, say “thanks” to you. For all the things that you do. Maybe you are doing lots of things right now to create a lovely Christmas for your loved ones. Or maybe you have been working hard at a work deadline. Or taking time to connect in with friends to make sure they are ok. Give yourself a mental pat in the back for at least one thing you do every day that helps life run smoother.
Tags: Bristol, Bristol UK, Compassion, gratitude, Happiness, Health, Holistic Therapy, Joy, Life, Meditation, mindful, Mindfulness, Quality of life, Reiki, wellbeing
This post was written by Sarah Presley