Mindfulness & Gratitude
It’s possible to convert every day into an occasion for giving thanks. Try it before every dinner, say it out loud, even if you’re alone. It’s more powerful that way. And this isn’t to make you into a more saintly person or somehow benevolently convert the world into a better place. It’s simply to make you happier.
Research study after research study has demonstrated that people who explicitly express gratitude on a regular basis are significantly more content with their lives than people who don’t.
A quick look at the psycho-social context of early Thanksgivings. Life was quite a bit more precarious in New England in the late 1600s than now. About 40% of children didn’t reach adulthood and even then, average life expectancy was 25 years. Wireless broadband internet coverage was patchy throughout most of the original 13 Colonies 😉
Even if times are toughs for you, what might you be thankful for on a typical November evening at dinnertime?
Gratitude: Being thankful, appreciative for the good things in your life, for people who have helped you, for fortunate events that have occurred. By now, most of us have heard from various sources that it’s good for our mental health. Now the research evidence is starting to pile up.
The average person is vaguely aware of a few key, recurring things in their lives they are grateful for. However, if we only think about those, we habituate to them; they stop being interesting. By contrast, fresh doses of perceptive gratitude on a daily basis function like a vaccine against impulsiveness and enhance self-control and future-orientedness.
A new study shows that being grateful helps increase self-control and reduce impulsive behaviors, particularly when it comes to financial decisions. People who cultivate an appreciative attitude towards everyday events are more patient; they are better able to delay gratification.
It can be easier than you think to find things to be grateful about; it just take a bit of extra focus. For example: “I’m grateful that when I left a bag on the train this morning, a stranger ran after me and handed it back to me.”
The new study suggests that the more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have in various areas of your life. It is an important finding because we tend to think of self-control as being linked to cognitive processes. The possibility that gratitude can help us increase self-control and reduce impulsiveness is very appealing.
When we’re in the shower, we aren’t on the phone or the computer, or watching TV. Generally we’re not being interrupted by anyone. That’s a great opportunity for some start-the-day-off-right “free” meditation time, notes Dina Overland.
We’re simply standing under a stream of water with the goal of becoming clean. But it’s not just our bodies we can clean while we’re in the shower, we can also clean out our minds and our thoughts.
Instead of letting your mind wander aimlessly (e.g. “what should I make for dinner tonight?”), you can consciously shape your thoughts to be more positive.
There are two parts to my shower routine to start each day with peace, gratitude and joy.
I begin with my “I ams”
– I am whole
– I am enough
– I am worthy
I take a few deep breaths as I think them, to make sure they really sink in:
– I am generous
– I am willing to change
– I am forgiving
So even if I am hating on a family member who hurt me last month or struggling with a cold, I repeat these positive statements several times.
Gratitude isn’t just for the dinner table anymore
Try it with your colleagues — whether you bring in pumpkin spice lattes and cranberry cupcakes for the meeting or not.
People get over the slight discomfort pretty quickly and soon realize that showing gratitude and appreciation isn’t specifically a religious act – it’s a human act that resonates with almost everyone.
As usual, the leader should go first, with a brief, bright and tight, well-though-out 60 seconds of key contributions from the team she or he is thankful for. Ideally someone else has been primed to go second – it doesn’t have to be the next in the chain of command; it can be a trusted assistant or a friendly colleague. And from there it’s pretty much automatic – everyone goes for 30 to 60 seconds.
Nothing grandiose is required – just sincerity and — ideally — some specificity. For example “I am so appreciative that Dana and Jason pitched in on that short-notice deadline we were given by Client XYZ” works very nicely. By contrast, “I just love all you guys – I’m so blessed” is rather too general and invites some cynicism.
But what’s the point of all this appreciative effort – is it worth it? In a word, yes. Here’s some more information.
Among the many things the world has to be grateful for the life of Nelson Mandela is, of course, his indomitable spirit. A spirit that inspires us to overcome huge resistance and endure many tortures along the way to fight for what is right.
The notion of an “unconquerable soul” comes from the poem Invictus by the English Victorian writer William Ernest Henley. We learned in Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and in the film Invictus that he recited the poem to himself every day of the 27 years he spent imprisoned.
The poem begins:
Out of the night that covers me / Black as the pit from pole to pole / I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how strait the gate / How charged with punishments the scroll / I am the master of my fate. / I am the captain of my soul.
What a life. Well worthy of an epic opera – if one hasn’t been written already – to celebrate him. A journey toward ultimate human fulfillment in the archetypal sense that psychologist C.G. Jung described: From athlete, to warrior, to statesman to sage.