Week Four / Day Five – Having an attitude of gratitude


Click here for the audio version of the lesson

We often hear a lot about the benefits of adding gratitude into our lives.  I have personally experienced what it feels like to be thankful for the good in your life.

Gratitude is slightly different to finding the hidden good in the bad, because it is about finding what’s great about your whole life, instead of just the situation.  In yesterday’s lesson, you started to learn how to find the value in the event that is occurring in your life.  Gratitude is essentially searching for where the highs are in your life, instead of being overwhelmed by the lows and thinking that this is all your life is.

When you live with gratitude in your life, this creates a feeling within you.  It is a deliberate mindset that you can teach yourself that helps you to see the glass as half full.

All week we have been talking about expanding your mindset to change the way you look at challenges and what they mean about your life.  Having an attitude of gratitude can help you to do this.

Our thinking is all about perspective.  Remember, it all depends on how we choose to look at things.  Our brain often uses habitual thinking as a way of looking at things, and what you are trying to do with this whole reality step, is to override these habitual thoughts, by deliberately replacing them with a different perspective on the situation.

Gratitude is a great way to do this.

The way to do this is to look for things that we have that we are thankful for, that we can appreciate in our lives.  Things that we may take for granted, but would be lost without.  Things such as food, clothes, having a roof over your head, being able to pay your bills, your friends, your family, your children, your husband can be a good place to start. You are literally putting your attention on what’s great about your life.

When your children are playing up, it can be helpful to use this form of gratitude to help you to expand your attention away from that moment, and take a look around at your life to see what is good about it.  Recognise that this moment that you are experiencing is only a small part of your life and even though it is a difficult time, there are other things going on in your life that are pretty good too.   This current situation is not the be all and end all of your life.  It is just one moment in time.

Here’s a little exercise that I did that you might find helpful to use too, as written in my ‘You Inside the Mum’ Manual’ which you can access as part of your membership:

Every night for 2 weeks I deliberately sat down and thought about 20 things that I was grateful for. To begin with it was all of the really basic, intellectual things. ‘I’m grateful for my healthy children. I’m grateful for my house and the food that I eat and the husband that I have’ etc – Fairly standard run of the mill intellectual and obvious stuff.

But then a strange thing started to happen.  On about day 3 or 4, I began feeling this gratitude. It went from thinking about what gratitude was, to really feeling grateful for all of these things.  I remember feeling suddenly awed by the awareness of what I really had in my life and felt this unbelievable feeling of elation and genuine gratitude for everything around me.  After this awakening, it was difficult to keep to the 20 things that I was grateful for as everything connected to something else that I was really grateful for.

I began to think about things like running water, and feel a genuine sense of gratitude for the fact that I could walk to my sink at any time and turn on my tap and receive running water, either hot or cold, depending on my desire. Simple pleasures that I had taken for granted, I suddenly became intensely aware of how grateful I was to have those pleasures.   I also began to sincerely appreciate my friends and family.

After watching the movie, Pursuit of Happiness, with Will Smith, who plays a homeless dad with his young son, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I would never become like him. I have so many wonderful friends and family that wouldn’t hesitate to put me up in their houses until I got back on my feet.  I am fortunate enough to live in a country that offers financial support to the unemployed and housing, especially for single parents.  The chances of me ever becoming homeless were incredibly slim.  After watching that movie, I felt incredibly grateful that my children were tucked up in their beds, under warm blankets, sleeping peacefully, under the same roof that provided them comfort and security.  It was amazing the sense of awe that I had for the simple pleasures that I was fortunate to be blessed with.

Another effortless shift began to happen in my daily life too.  I didn’t feel so angry anymore.  I felt a strange sense of patience and calmness with my children and found gratitude in my experiences with them and within my daily life as a stay at home mum.  This was a huge shift for me at that time of my life, where I was still learning a lot about my own habit patterns of the mind in terms of being a mother, and becoming an observer to my actions and my reactions that were causing me to suffer in my role as a mum.

Feeling gratitude and undertaking this challenge to find gratitude in my daily life, so that I could list these things every evening, literally caused me to shift my attention to the positives of my life, rather than staying stuck in my ‘woe is me’ attitude and I began to feel really good about my life.  I really started to feel as if I didn’t need to be angry, as I really had nothing to be angry about – my life was really quite good.

This is the huge change that gratitude can have on your life. It forces you to shift your focus outside of your problems, your fears, your anxieties and your resentment, and really feel what a great life you really have.

If you try that exercise too, for at least 2 weeks, you will be amazed at how differently you feel.  It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life.  There is always some aspects of it that you can be grateful for.  As you read this, if you are in a situation where many difficult challenges are presenting themselves right now, it may seem like there is nothing to be grateful for, but trust me, there is, you just need to start looking for them.

Start with really obvious stuff, as I’ve just mentioned – food, water, clothes, health etc.  To begin with you will probably just be stating what you are grateful for without feeling, but bare with it, because after a few days of doing this, you will notice a significant shift.

Make sure that you seek to find new things to write about everyday and that you are not just writing the same list each night.  Because you are going about your day looking for things that you can add to your gratitude list that night, you find that you are not focusing so much on your problems.

This exercise is the perfect example of how shifting your focus and expanding your mind can change how you feel.  It’s pretty amazing how quickly your mind starts to pick up on this shift in focus and expands in that direction instead.

You will experience what it means when I quote the saying.  ‘When you change what you think about, what you think about changes’.  I strongly urge you to give this gratitude exercise a try for yourself.

When you consistently begin deliberately finding all of these things that you appreciate in your life, rather than focusing on everything going wrong and what you are missing out on, you will ultimately be widening your perspective and stopping yourself from being consumed by the small picture (what is currently happening) which is essentially what we are trying to do in this reality step.

Another way that you can add gratitude into your life is by learning to see what you are getting or receiving from the situation itself.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Rather than looking at the behaviour of your child having a tantrum, be grateful that your child has the energy and capacity to scream that loud.
  • Rather than being angry about the backchat that you may be receiving, appreciate that your child obviously knows that you love them and they feel safe enough to be able to express themselves in this way, knowing that they will not be hurt in any way.
  • If the house is messy, appreciate that you have so much stuff in order for it to be messy.  Appreciate that you have a house to store all of this stuff in it.
  • If you are feeling unorganised, appreciate all that you have managed to do and write a list of everything you have achieved so that you can see that you have made some progress.  Maybe it wasn’t everything you wanted to do on your list, but you got something done.
  • If your child is pushing his/her boundaries, appreciate how active, curious and healthy their brains are for being able to test, learn and try new things.
  • If you learning something new (eg breastfeeding) and you feel like you are doing something wrong, think about all the times in your past where you had to practice something over and over and how grateful you felt when you had perfected it.  This doesn’t have to be about parenting though, it’s just a reminder that we all have to learn and practice in order to do something new.
  • If you have had a difficult labour that was different to how you expected it to go, appreciate that that moment is gone now, and that you now have a perfect little baby to go home with.
  • If you are sick, begin appreciating all the other aspects of your body that are functioning correctly and appreciate your body’s efforts to correct that illness.
  • If you are having arguments with your partner, be grateful for what you love about him and what he does that you do appreciate, rather than focusing on what he’s not doing.
  • If you find yourself missing your old pre-children life, look for what you are grateful for in your post-child life.  For example, not having to go to work every morning if you are a stay at home mum, being able to watch your child grow, being able to socialise with other mums, being able to go out for coffee or to the shops during the day, not having to deal with the annoying aspects of what your old job entailed etc.

Even as I began to write that list, my attention kept finding more and more ways to find gratitude in your life.  You will be quite surprised when you begin adding gratitude into your life too.

Gratitude and Happiness

There is a big difference between feeling happy and having overall happiness in your life.  As I have mentioned before, feeling happy is an emotion and it’s usually an emotion that we feel when life is going the way we would like it to go.

Now reality is that life doesn’t always go the way we would like, therefore we will not always feel the emotion of being happy.  However, adding gratitude in your life and being grateful for what you are getting when life isn’t going to plan, will add happiness to your life.

For example, you would never feel happy if a loved one passed over, but knowing that we are all on borrowed time, you can feel grateful for the time you had with that person.  You wouldn’t feel the emotion of happiness at that point in time, but you have a sense of acceptance about that situation, because you can see the positives of that experience.

What lies at the core of overall happiness in your life, is non-resistance – that is, not resisting what’s happening in our lives.  Sometimes we can’t control how life unfolds, but we can be aware of what we are thinking about the situation, and if we can learn to see the hidden good in the bad and see what we are getting, what we are receiving and feel grateful for that, then you will be living your life with non-resistance.

This doesn’t mean that you will just allow bad things to happen for you and never try to avoid experiencing tough times.  We are never going to do that.  Of course you are always going to set goals and want life to go the way you’d like it to.  That’s what we do in life and that is essentially what the next three steps on the Mind TRACK to Happiness process are all about.

However, all stress is a conflict between belief and reality and when you are in conflict with reality, you are resisting it.  By having an attitude of gratitude you begin to, not only accept your current situation, but be grateful for what you are receiving from that situation.

Once again, after becoming aware of what you are thinking about the situation, you can consciously choose to remain stuck and consumed by what’s happening in your life, or you can expand your attention to what you are receiving from this situation – the benefits of it.

It all depends on how you look at it.