A couple of weeks ago when I spoke to my daughter, she was pretty desperate and full of negative feelings, as she’s on the job hunt after having finished her master’s in science. She complained: “Mum, I can’t even get a job in a b***dy pet shop, they won’t take me because I am over qualified, and the jobs I really want, ask for lots of experience – I will never find anything! Why the heck did I spend 4 years studying at all?”
Do you know the feeling of having the first negative thought, followed by the next one until your head (and heart) is full of dark clouds? It’s pretty much a steep downward spiral if you don’t stop yourself quickly.
But how can you stop yourself if the world does seem a dark, unjust and just horrible place?
I told my daughter just to stop for a moment to take a deep breath and listen. I then took some time to tell her all those great things about her: How focused she was working through her studies, how talented she is, how she had tackled challenges like studying abroad, living in a tent in a rainforest for a week (without mobile phone), where at the age of 12, how she managed to learn a different language to the level where she was able to not only study but to graduate…and some more (and yes, I am biased, after all I am her mum).
The pep talk did not find her a job. Nor did it resolve the problem. But what it did change was her perspective.
Reminding ourselves of all the good stuff that has happened and continues to happen in our life and, most importantly, be grateful for it, changes our thoughts and with it our feelings about a situation or about ourselves.
Yes, I know, there are enough reasons to feel demotivated and icky right now. One look at the (political) news of the day can normally do the trick. Of course, we can allow ourselves to be drawn into all the negativity and speculations about all sorts of potentially dark scenarios, and subsequently feel miserable.
Personally, this would drive me crazy.
The alternative, or even antidote, when getting into this negativity spiral is Gratitude.
Gratitude changes the way we look at things and hence our perspective.
This is not some esoteric crap or a magic spell, but is in fact shown to be true by researchers and their many studies: Practicing gratitude creates joy. Not vice versa.
Being grateful means feeling grateful for the good stuff in our lives. This can be as small as a beautiful sunset or the peaceful look on the face of our (finally) sleeping.
This is not me just claiming this - Dr. Brené Brown (author of Daring Greatly and more…highly recommended books) states that in the long run gratitude not only changes our perspective, but makes us happier – mentally as well as physically.
The caveat is that this only works if you practice it regularly. A bit like exercise: Going to the gym once a month won’t result in a six pack. Or having a walk every now and again won’t enable you to run a marathon.
“Oh gosh – something ELSE on my to-do-list? I don’t have time for all that…” you might find yourself think.
Well, here are some practical tips to cultivate gratitude into your life. With an absolutely minimum time effort, but with a great result. I promise.
1. Keep a gratitude journal on your night stand. Plus a pen. After you wake up, give yourself some moments to think about two or three things you are grateful for: Your healthy kid, your talent to make people laugh, the roof over your head, your snoring better half…or whatever you are grateful for. Then FEEL it (you will know when you do) and write it down. A matter of 5 minutes max.
I am using the 5-minute gratitude journal which goes even a step further: In the morning I write down 3 things I am grateful for, what would make my day really great (stuff I can influence…so don’t be tempted to wish for the sudden disappearance of someone you don’t like or for that elusive lottery win) and in the evening I list 3 great things that happened during the day.
Sometimes it takes a moment to remember – particularly if I had a crappy day (yes, it happens to me too), but interestingly enough I tend to find at least one really nice thing that makes me smile when looking back at my day.
2. Have a gratitude jar in your kitchen (or office or wherever you feel good about having it). Whenever something springs to mind you are grateful for (even if it’s “only” the paper in the printer as the person before you filled it up), write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. I bet all those little (or big) things will bring a smile on your face.
3. Write a thank-you-letter to someone once a week. I have put that in my calendar. Each Friday afternoon. When the reminder pops up I think about who I could thank for what. Maybe this is a customer paying his bills punctually. Maybe that is my son feeding the cat reliably every day.
I still practice and sometimes find it hard to find the “right” person to thank, but I also experienced amazing results while doing so. This simple gesture creates a much deeper connection between people, and helps build or maintain trust. Both are wonderful and exactly what we need as humans.
If you’re still reading on I guess you know deep inside of you that this is not some hocus pocus or new age idea. Try out one of the ways of practicing being grateful – on a regular basis and see what happens.
You won’t regret it.