Remember that old adage? Perhaps you just thought it was something old people were prone to saying?! More recently, Oprah Winfrey urged us to write 5 good things daily in a gratitude journal. Well... now there is solid scientific evidence that those of us who cultivate a mindset of gratitude are happier! Numerous studies have shown that people who consciously and regularly draw their attention to the good in their lives are more positive, more hopeful and more energetic than those who do not. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology and author of 'The How of Happiness' calls gratitude a 'megastrategy for achieving happiness'. So.. if you are now scheduling time into your diary for yourself (Ten Steps to Positivity #3) why not devote part of that diary - be it electronic or paper - to raising your awareness of the positive parts of your life? One thing to be aware of though, is that while scientific evidence does support the benefits of counting your blessings, these benefits are reduced when subjects feel compelled to fill out the gratitude diary every day: it just becomes yet another task on our to do list. To ensure the exercise works best, choose one day a week and put aside time to remember and list the great things that have happened to you in the last seven days: that way you will avoid being bored and make sure you increase your positivity levels!
For those of us who are not much into diary keeping, Barbara Fredrickson, another Professor of Psychology, and author of the book 'Positivity', has an alternative suggestion around creating gratitude rituals within your daily routine... her ritual is to express gratitude when facing an ending - such as when leaving a group of friends or work... Or what about having a quick blessings audit last thing at night? Going over the good things from the day before is a great way to ensure a peaceful night's sleep!
Once you start really looking for the good in each day, you will find obvious things: that car parking space just outside the shop you wanted to go to; the traffic lights just turning to green as you arrive; the friend who calls and makes you smile... the real challenge is to 'reframe' the bad stuff into a blessing! That swimming lesson when I swallowed half the pool? It was only half the pool, I didn't drown... and I'm getting better!! That really obnoxious person I had to deal with? Most people are much nicer and thankfully I don't come across such rudeness very often! That running injury I had? It will mend quickly and gives me time to rest.... you get the idea!
One of the best things about increasing gratitude levels is that once you get into the habit of really looking for your blessings each day - you begin to see more and more of them! This is because we get what we focus on. Has there been a time when you were looking for a new car and all of a sudden the model you are thinking about seems to be everywhere? Or you start planning a family - and every woman out there seems to be pushing a pram? This is because there is something in our brain called the RAS or reticular activating system which acts as a filter to all the millions of things that are happening around us so we only notice the important 5 - 7 pieces of information that we can handle at any one time. When we are focussing on finding blessings to list for our gratitude diary, then the RAS draws our attention to things which otherwise we may not ever have registered. So the very act of consciously working on becoming more grateful will actually increase our blessings.
So, in the run up to Christmas and before the New Year kicks off, why not give it a try? Start counting your blessings and see how that can help make 2015 into the year that you feel happier and more positive.