Gratitude. It’s the ultimate cure for a bad mood, stress and worry. Thankfulness moves a person from pessimistic, depressive thoughts to feelings of happiness, joy and contentment. We all want more of that in life, right?
Every action we take is the result of a thought. Our thoughts are incredibly powerful; they shape our lives. Age-old wisdom tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Genetics and our environment are not the key determinants of happiness, we are. The way we look at the world determines how we feel. When we choose to lead our thoughts, we can create a fulfilling life.
The reason gratitude is so powerful is this unchanging principle: What we focus on increases.
As a wellbeing coach, I have had many clients over the years who when asked to tell me what they want, automatically answer with a story about their current problems and a long list of what they don’t want. The trouble is that our subconscious brain doesn’t hear the word “don’t,” and we tend to get stuck wherever our focus is.
Rather than saying I don’t want to feel so tired and flat we can instead say I want to feel happy and energized. By watching our self-talk, we can catch ourselves when using “don’t” phrases and replace them with what we do want. This transforms our thought processes, our words and our actions.
While you can’t always control the thoughts that pop into your head, the great thing is that you can choose what to focus on. Your brain isn’t able to focus on two things at once, so if you are feeling down and you then practice gratitude, your perspective shifts and everything changes. Stress hormones decrease, growth hormones increase and your muscles relax. It even transforms the way you move, breathe and interact with others.
Imagine what a difference that could make for your next speech or your work performance when chairing a meeting or pitching to a potential client.
Gratitude is an essential precursor to happiness. Psychologist Shawn Achor’s worldwide studies have shown that writing down three things daily that you are grateful for can permanently adapt neural pathways in just 21 days, transforming genetically pre-disposed pessimists into long-term optimists. It all starts by focusing on gratitude, which re-programs our brains to scan the world for the positive rather than the negative. When our brain is positive we are 31 percent more productive, 23 percent less stressed and 39 percent more likely to live to the age of 94.
Happiness comes down to our personal perspective, and gratitude is an essential precursor to happiness. The glass is both half full and half empty at the same time. It just depends on how we look at it. Whether we view our lives as full of good and wondrous things and see the best in people depends solely on the outlook we choose.
Even in the most challenging times it is possible to be grateful for our blessings. We may not be able to change the facts of a situation, but we always have the power to choose how we perceive them and in turn how we respond.
“Before I was paralyzed, there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I’ve lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left.”— W MITCHELL
An example of someone who epitomizes this is W Mitchell, an inspiring man who was nearly killed in a blazing motorcycle accident that left him with burns on 65 percent of his body. Years later he was paralyzed in a plane crash and is now confined to a wheel chair with a disfigured face and tiny stumps in the place of fingers. Yet he has chosen to embrace the positives of his situation and use it as a platform to inspire others.
Now an international speaker, Mitchell passionately spreads the message of his book “It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do About It.” He encourages us all by saying “Before I was paralyzed, there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I’ve lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left.”
An attitude of gratitude allows us to move forward positively in any situation. It is like rising up to your full height, lifting your chin and looking up rather than hanging your head and forlornly following your gaze down in a negative spiral.
Gratitude shifts our focus from the things we lack to what we already have. Sometimes we need a reality check as we take the smallest things in life for granted. Did you know that if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75 percent of the people in this world and that if you can read this article, you are more blessed than the more than 775 million people that cannot read at all?
How many other things can you be thankful for today? Think of all the opportunities your Toastmasters club gives you to extend and better yourself both through speaking and leadership opportunities. Not to mention being part of this inspiring international organization.
I love how the Toastmasters program focuses on gratitude and improving performance through positive feedback. Yes, the constructive recommendations are essential for growth, but for most speakers, it is the commendations, where we praise and thank people for their efforts, that result in ongoing participation and positive change.
I am grateful for the culture of positive feedback that Toastmasters creates; it helps us capitalize on our strengths. I enjoy seeing members in my club grow confident as they try new things and learn from their experiences.
I hope that by practicing gratitude in and outside of your club you will see great benefit in your own life.
Four practical ways to embrace an attitude of gratitude today:
Cast grateful thoughts backward and forward
First thing in the morning (e.g., while showering, eating breakfast or brushing your teeth) focus on these two thoughts: Think about one specific thing you are thankful for from yesterday and replay it in your mind, then think ahead to one thing you are looking forward to today. The key is to be intentional with this practice and tie it into a daily task so you remember to do it.
Make a point of thanking at least one person every day. This could be by email, in a card, in person or on the phone. You could praise a colleague, your boss or even a client. Specific immediate feedback is one of the best management tools because people do more of what they are thanked for. This works in personal relationships too. When was the last time you thanked your club president, timer or general evaluator for their efforts? It will not only make their day, it will also boost your own mood. Think of the positive effect that could have on your entire club.
Share grateful words
Set aside a specific time to tell someone what you are most grateful for each day. This could be a family member at the dinner table or a friend who becomes your gratitude partner. Take turns describing in detail the best thing about your day and explaining how it made you feel, and why. This allows your brain to replay the scene and doubles your happiness factor. The brain doesn’t distinguish between the real and replayed version so you reap all the physiological benefits twice over.
End the day by writing
Before going to sleep, write down some key things you are thankful for. Aim for three to five but don’t put a limit on it. Journaling has a profound effect on happiness because it replays the positives, keeps you focused on what you want and gives you a reference to look back on, which can be handy in challenging times. Once you start, you will often find that your list is longer than you first imagined. It may also initiate ideas for future speech topics which you can share, creating a positive ripple of gratitude.
I invite you to choose the strategy that most appeals to you. Start using it every day for a week and you will see immediate and significant changes in how you feel. This will change how your life unfolds and create a positive spiral leading to even more gratitude!
Remember that you choose how you perceive your world. One grateful thought at a time, you can boost your happiness, improve your health and be more successful.
Lauren Parsons is an award-winning Wellbeing Specialist who equips and inspires people to boost their health and happiness, for life. Get a free copy of Lauren's e-book and register for updates at www.laurenparsons.co.nz.