Don't you love it when all the good things collide in your life! That's what happened to me about 18 months ago. Well, let me back up a bit. I had been experiencing something new for about a month - a darkness had descended on me and my heart. I had to search for a cause - yes, there were things that I could point to that were stressful, disappointing and difficult, but I couldn't put my finger on the exact reason why all of a sudden I had become an emotional cripple. Instead of my usual bubbly, friendly personality, I found I wanted to stay inside in a dark corner of my living room under my son's cubby made out of purple sheets and broomsticks. The thought of going out into places where I had to interact with people made me feel incredibly anxious. I was desperate to find a solution and I did not want to get dependant on medication. I wanted some real answers.
I have always been surrounded by people who love health and I have always been passionate about learning healthy ways of cooking. But my will power would come in waves. After a few weeks of going 'whole hog', I would slip into old patterns and more convenient solutions when life got hectic. I had also begun to hear about interesting and notions like mindfulness, intermittent fasting, exercise science - eg. HIIT training and one of my favourites - gut health. After a month of struggling to the point of not being able to go to work, I decided I was going to put all my new-found knowledge to the test. But there was one article I read that really set me on a path of discovery as it taught, "Happiness...is a mind-set to be cultivated, not a condition to be imposed." *1
Happiness was something I had in the past found easily again in spite of some major difficulties in life. But I had never been so far from it as I had at this time. I look back and realise that physically and mentally my body had reached a point where my buffer to deal with everyday stress was gone. Kickstarting my health journey brought the sunshine back into my life very quickly. But there was one crucial habit that I adopted in a new way. I began to write a gratitude journal. I took the time to list some things in my life that I was grateful for - as big as 'my kids' to something as small as 'that new smoothie tasted amazing'.
Slow down and be in the moment
At this time, I was also taking part in the 'Live More' project with Dr. Darren Morton who advocates for the fact that "Feelings Follow Our Focus". If we are choosing to focus on positive things, we will feel better. Think it through. Have you ever had a time when your thoughts go into a loop of negativity and keep going around and around until they spiral out of control? It is always caused by stressing about something that has happened in the past or worrying about things that are possibly going to happen. When you feel yourself jumping on that runaway train, you could remind yourself that right here, in this moment there is something else you could focus on. Being in the moment is a beautiful way to practice gratitude. Use your senses - take a moment to put your feet solidly on the floor, ground yourself, look for the horizon. It helps tell your brain that you are safe there is no danger in sight. Then there are other more active senses you can take notice of as you go about your day. Can you appreciate the way the sun feels on your skin as you walk, the warmth of the water on your hands as you do your dishes, the sound of your child's laughter, the colours of that gorgeous sunset! Don't miss those moments.
Learning to be in the moment also helped me to appreciate poetry again.
"Walk in the rhythm you have been graced with; rebel against the waves that demand you -
Tess Guinery, The Apricot Memoirs
Being able to enjoy poetry or writing down things you are grateful for both require you to slow down. Are we willing to take it slow sometimes? Stop for a few minutes and count your blessings.
It seems so simple that it couldn't possibly do too much good, but science today is strongly advocating for this practice. One study found that in severely depressed patients, taking the time to record just three things daily over 15 days led to a reported increase in well-being in 94% of respondents.*1
Gratitude has been linked to better health. A study involving adolescents who were asked to keep a gratitude diary also reported eating healthier.*2
Traditionally gratitude has been relegated to the theological and philosophical spheres. The bible encourages us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Give thanks in "all circumstances" - sounds like a tough gig if you've just been delivered devastating news, right! To be perfectly honest, life is not all rosy in my neck of the woods right now. I have some real obstacles and difficulties to face, but I will choose to focus on the things that I can do something about and remember to show gratitude by actively looking for the good.
Science is showing that there are so many quantifiable benefits of expressing gratitude. People who practise gratitude:
report more positive emotions - optimism, vitality, satisfaction with life,
feel more empathetic and generous,
place less importance on material things and are less envious of others,
have lower levels of depression and anxiety *3
So how do you practice gratitude
Dr. Randy Kamen suggests these gratitude exercises
Keep a gratitude journal and list 3-5 positive experiences from the day
Say thank you often to the people who serve you
Write down a letter of thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life
At every meal take a moment to express gratitude alone or with loved ones
Practice not gossiping, complaining or judging for a day
Express or show gratitude to your loved ones
Start your day by thinking about what you are grateful for *4
"A lot of people think happiness is a very very exciting emotion. They expect it to be this constant state of ecstasy - as opposed to equanimity, which is a more sustainable and attainable form of happiness, almost like a quiet joy. It doesn't look like winning the lottery. It looks much more like sitting quietly and noticing that your life is actually wonderful."*1
Hedy Kober, Yale University
So all these good practices collided 18 months ago. Only 2 weeks into my new health journey and I felt completely transformed. I was eating for gut health, exercising, sleeping right, practising gratitude and all doing the things I'd known for a long time make a big difference and it was like someone had turned the light back on in my life. I want the same transformation for you. It is why I believe so strongly in the things I share on this blog. I want to shine a torch on the path for those who are looking for new strategies to deal with our messy life. But this skill of showing gratitude is something accessible to all of us right here, right now!
I dare you to say yes to slow living and yes to gratitude!
*1 The CUT - How to be Happy
*2 Science Direct - Gratitude facilitates healthy eating behavior in adolescents and young adults
*3 Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness
*4 The Transformative Power of Gratitude