Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Practical Guide to Gratitude

Hepatica Bloom

You already know that gratitude is one of those 'should' things.  But just because it's a good thing to do doesn't make it easy to do.  The problem with the current trendiness of gratitude is that it pings a lot of guilt.  We know we should be grateful, but it's not always easy when we're in a bad situation. Gratitude can get lost in a sea of other more dramatic negative emotions which makes it even harder to feel grateful. When someone 'helpful' tells you to feel grateful for what you have instead of dwelling on what you don't have, you really want to, but you don't really feel it because your bad situation feels so overwhelming. So, you feel guilty.  Being grateful is just one more thing you're not doing, which makes you a bad person, which means maybe you deserve the awful situation you're in.  The guilt only makes things worse instead of actually helping you, defeating the entire purpose of gratitude.

Are you trying ti figure out how practicing gratitude can actually be helpful to you?  Here's my Practical Guide to Gratitude.  [and bonus!'s short.]

First and most importantly. Don't feel gratitude out of duty.  I'm totally letting you off the hook here.  When you're feeling bad about your situation, and someone tells you that you should feel grateful because things could be so much are not going to feel better.  You are probably going to feel guilt, shame or anger instead of gratitude, in addition to feeling bad about your situation.   No one likes to be preached to.  You do not have to feel grateful until you are damn good and ready.  You can dump that burden of guilt right here and now.

When you are ready, if you choose to try to use gratitude as a tool for healing, then here are some things that might help you think about it in a useful way.

Gratitude is a quiet thing.  When we take a moment to breathe and notice something to be grateful for, it helps us be still, slows the flow of negative thoughts and allows us to be peaceful with at least that one part of our lives. That peace will help bring us relief from the other burdens we're carrying.  That kind of relief can be powerful.

Try it now.  Look around where you are and find one thing you're glad is in your life.  Just one.  Anything.  Think about how awesome that thing is for a bit.  Breathe.  Let your shoulders relax. Just breathe.

Gratitude helps us focus on something good.  Not only do we slow down to pay attention when think about being grateful for something, our attention is focused on something positive instead of something stressful. That change in focus will bring you even more relief.

Once we give ourselves some room to breathe, and change our focus to something positive, it's easier to be open to changes in mindset, new strategies, new opportunities.   You don't have to make big changes unless you're ready, but the simple act of being open to something positive will bring more positive things to you.   And that's enough for now.

Gratitude is a great first step to making positive change in your life.  This is true even when you don't know what that change should be, or what the next step should be.  It's true even if you feel completely overwhelmed by your circumstances or if you see no way out of your current situation.  If you're ready to make a positive change, then gratitude is a very easy first step.

Do Gratitude on your terms, in your own way.  No rules.  You can make a written list or not.  You can share it with a group or not. You can choose one thing a day or ten. You can focus on things or people or circumstances or big abstract principles.  If your mind goes blank, then start with emotionally neutral things that are right in front of you - like post-it notes or the cup that holds your drink so your coffee is not all over your lap.  It all counts. You can't do it wrong.  It all counts. 

Remember this one thing:  Gratitude is to make you feel GOOD. If you feel bad about it, then adjust your practice until it feels good.  That's when it will help you most.

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