It was a cold winter day and I was standing in my kitchen with my father, who was struggling with dementia, and my husband who was in the throes of depression. My father was sitting in front of me and my husband was standing behind me. They were both looking to me for support and direction at the same time. In that moment I felt alone, struggling to find a focus of direction, swirling with invading thoughts of the what if’s.
Abruptly, told myself “STOP!” and refocus on the moment…these men that I love need to eat…
I focused then on the blessing of having plenty of food to prepare, a warm house and the sweetness of relationship. I mindfully proceeded to take one moment at a time, realizing I did have what it took to get through that afternoon.
The following days, months and years proved to be a challenge as my husband’s career took an unfortunate turn, we sold our dream home, moved away and moved my father in an extended care facility. Five years later, I look back and realized those challenging times could either be defined by the losses or appreciated as an opportunity to gain a positive perspective. Out of necessity I have been intentional about my perspective and began to form habits of gratitude.
It began with focusing on facts and not the fog of feelings.
In an earlier post I gave 20 verses of scriptures given direction and wisdom regarding thankfulness. I have also found multiple sources toting the wisdom of thankfulness from science. The following are actions that I have not only I discovered were helpful but were actually needed to form the habit of gratitude. (Please note the link at the end and you can assess your level of gratitude.)
Actions of habit to live Gratitude
1. Affirmations in writing
The best way to grow your habit is to write down the things you are thankful for in a daily journal. Research has proven that taking 15 minutes to jot down what you are grateful for before bed can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. (psychology today). This habit can even boost your immune system. The brain tends to naturally focus on what goes wrong so intentionally focusing on what went right, the positive outcomes, will improve the brain chemistry. This action will take planning and perseverance. Find what works best for you, morning, at lunch or at night. As a result of focusing on affirmations you will be able to value your loved ones more, need less as you become thankful for what you have, you will be kinder as you focus on the best in people, and think better of yourself as observe the joy of working through challenges.
2. Appreciation in Attitude
“…life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.” writes Robert Emmons, Co director of University of California, Berkeley Gratitude Project. To see the world with grateful eyes takes a the vulnerability that humility offers. To realize that we are not self sufficient that God is our creator and provider of our all our needs physically and spiritually. The greatest need is love that is given by God through others in our life. It is like being a sponge that is soaking up the many gifts of life instead of being an in-penetrable rock oblivious, unable to receive and realize the blessings of each day.
3. Accessibility in Connections
“Gratitude really helps us connect to other people,” Emmons says. “It actually strengthens relationships and relationships are the strongest predictors of happiness and coping with stress.” Think of the last time someone expressed their appreciation for you in how you performed, gave or were just you. I am sure you were drawn closer to that person. Gratitude puts a glow in relationships. In all relationship from the young person that carries the groceries to the closest family members. Expression of gratitude tightens the glue in marriage and builds safety in the work place. We need relationships to live, so be intentional to give the grace of gratitude to foster secure connections.
4. Awareness of the Value of the little things
Think specific! Specific not only for the things you appreciate about your relationships but the little things in the world around you. Recently I was working a 4 day marital intensive, which can be draining. On a break I plucked a tiny white flower just outside the facility in the grass. I noticed the intricate petals and was amazed at the big fragrance! As I appreciated this little flower I felt a lifting and opening of my senses giving me a new found energy. It is so important to stop and be mindful in the moment; expanding your gratitude for this life.
5. Acceptance of the Negative
After 9/11 evidence of gratitude were measured to be higher. (reported my WebMD) To be Thanking outside the box would be to experience a crisis and turn it into an opportunity for a renewal, growth, appreciation of the strength that carried you through and the realization of a clarity of life priorities. Suffering and losses can show us things we may have and should not take for granted.
This isn’t just theoretical: When you find yourself taking a good thing for granted, try giving it up for a little while. Researchers Jordi Quoidbach and Elizabeth Dunn had 55 people eat a piece of chocolate—and then the researchers told some of those people to resist chocolate for a week and others to binge on chocolate if they wanted. They left a third group to their own devices.
Guess who ended up happiest, according to self-reports? The people who abstained from chocolate. And who were the least happy? The people who binged. That’s the power of gratitude! (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_habits_of_highly_grateful_people)
Emmons says “There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals. ”
To live gratitude one accepts setbacks as part of life’s overall journey. Life struggles are inevitable, letting the suffering define life, is a choice.
6. Asking to serve
Have you ever had the opportunity of to volunteer to help someone that could not pay your back? Most of us feel grateful for the opportunity to serve. It has been shown that people are more grateful as givers than they are as receivers. As recent research published in BMC Public Health points out, volunteering can result in lower feelings of depression and increased overall well-being. Serving others with our talents and love is energizing as we realize our purpose, cultivating a confidence to give and serve more. Would that be why Jesus said the last shall be first?
7. Alleviating inactivity
What does gratitude have to do with activity?According to Emmons’s 2003 study, people who practiced gratitude also engaged in more exercise. The results also found that study participants had fewer dietary restrictions and were less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol. It has been long proved that exercise relieves stress and bring clarity to the mind. Adding exercise to the habits of living gratitude would contribute to an overall healthier mind and body.
The greatest commandment is to “Love your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30) This scripture embodies the scope of a how to live gratitude, with all you have! The consequences will be a life of better health, joy and hope.
Test your strength in gratitude take the Gratitude Quiz.