As a born and raised New Yorker, my baseline attitude was always sarcastic, aggressive and grumpy. So I did not learn the art of gratitude organically. Over the past two years as my career in social work progressed and my personal life became balanced, I recognized that a piece of this change was a shift in my perspective. In part, I attribute those changes to my leaving New York and moving to “the sticks” in southeastern Connecticut and discovering more space and time. The rest of the change came from actively working on finding gratitude and being happy for the amazing things in my life. It’s not that I wasn’t thankful or didn’t have insight into the advantages I had in life, I just wasn’t sure how to identify, acknowledge and appreciate them.
Countless studies show that noticing and acknowledging what is positive in your life can benefit your mental and physical health. The Huffington Post has a dedicated section to gratitude- that is how useful this stuff is. The New York City gal in me used to think a mindfulness and gratitude sound like a load of garbage. If anyone had told me journaling my positive thoughts to benefit my mental wellness, I would have laughed in their face and cracked a snarky joke. Now, I am totally in. I accept that acknowledging my gratitude is something I need to do to help me prevent burnout, keep me balanced and just be a better practitioner and person.
One of the barriers I have faced (and maybe you have too) is the conversation we all have in our heads that can sometimes (or consistently) tell us that we don’t deserve success, that we are useless, worthless and that our doubts are justified. These thoughts can be combated with positive self-talk. Speaking compassionately with yourself even on your worst day is beneficial to your self-worth and a way to show gratitude to yourself and those around you. It’s also a way to practice awareness and build up your self-esteem. If you miss a deadline or you scream at your partner, take a step back and acknowledge your mistake (and apologize to your partner!!!!). Figure out what is really going on and move forward.
I have had many great teachers on this three-year journey towards finding this connection to gratitude and mindfulness (still a work in progress). Last year, I had the honor and joy of working with the talented Cheryl Hughes who taught me a great closing exercise for yoga or any mindfulness practice. We would rub our hands together, place our palms over our eyes and focus on a place of gratitude and self-love. It turns out anyone can learn to hold onto that grateful space throughout your day, week or until you need it again. On my own, I have added the practice of creating a mental list of the positive things that have happened throughout the day. I also meditate in the morning at work (see my next post on building a mindful practice at work to find out how).
As the Beastie Boys said: “Look inside and you will see what are you grateful for.”