When you wake up in the morning we have a great influence over how we start our day. Learn to think of each morning as a fresh canvas, with the worries of yesterday cleared away and many possibilities and opportunities in the day ahead. How we feel in the morning sets the standard for the rest of the day, so it can be really helpful to begin the day by thinking about some of the positive things you hope to achieve that day. Some people even benefit from thinking or saying aloud some positive affirmations before they get out of bed. Pick some that resonate with you from the list below and trial incorporating them into your morning routine by repeating them a few times in your head before you get out of bed each day.
* I’m excited for the day ahead
* I get to choose how my day goes
* I am blessed
* I have the courage to make this a great day
* I am so grateful to be alive today
* I will be thankful for all of the little things today
* Everything works out for the best
Too often we tend to focus on what is going wrong in our lives and pay little attention to things we are thankful for or events that have made us happy. Although a simple exercise, it can seem somewhat challenging as it involves being able to specifically focus on events and things we have enjoyed presently. However it is a very useful exercise – training our attention to focus on what makes us happy in life.
Amidst the flurry of everyday life, it is easy to become desensitised to the positive aspects of your life. Research suggests that people are more inclined to ruminate about the things that have gone wrong, instead of thinking about things that go right, decreasing life satisfaction and increasing anxiety. This Three Blessings strategy works to shift your attention to focus on what goes well. Previous research shows how this way of thinking builds realistic optimism for the future, cultivates gratitude and reduces symptoms of depression.
Try these strategies at night- you can incorporate them into your sleep practice if that is helpful:
- Write down three good things that happened to you that day – they can be relatively small like ‘I had my favourite lunch today’ to relatively big like ‘I was offered a job today that I really wanted and will give me experience in the area I have chosen to study’. They can be ordinary or unusual, important or unimportant.
- Next to each positive event write down why the good thing happened. Once you have recorded your three entries, rate your day on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is a bad day and 10 is the best day you could have had. This is a global rating of your entire day not just the three events your have recorded.
- At the end of the week reflect on the causes of your positive events – by rating your day you can also chart your progress and review what it is that has made your higher rating days that way. Also, re-experiencing pleasures of the day and savouring them amplifies the positive emotions associated with that event.
Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether it is physical or not. With gratitude, people acknowledge what is valuable and meaningful in their lives. When you are grateful for something, you will usually notice that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of yourself. For that reason, gratitude helps people appreciate that the world does not revolve around them; in both small and large ways, we depend on others. Additionally, gratitude helps people to develop a sense of perspective by becoming aware of the fact that life could easily be much more difficult. It is considered one of the top character strengths, and can be easily cultivated.
How is gratitude helpful?
Research shows that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Most people say that feeling grateful feels warm, peaceful, friendly, or joyful. Gratitude is evidently a positive, desirable state that people tend to find enjoyable. Gratitude creates positive emotions that in turn improve resilience, thus helping people to cope with adverse events in their lives. A wealth of positive emotions also enable people to relish their daily lives and build strong, connected relationships with other people at home, at work, and in the community.
A study by McCraty and colleagues (1998) taught participants to foster appreciation and other positive emotions. Results showed a 23% reduction in cortisol levels (a stress hormone) after the intervention period. Additionally, 80% of the participants demonstrated improved regulation of heart rate – indicating that they were able to physically overcome stressful events more quickly. Being stressed increases our heart rate and we may find it difficult to calm down if we are angry or anxious. We may notice physical sensations such as being ’on edge’ or that our ‘blood is boiling’, and these feelings can linger long after the stressful incident. Ideally, we should be able to ‘bounce back’ from an adverse event and reflect on it with more positive methods than continuing to feel stressed. As a result of learning how to be grateful, the participants in the study experienced lower levels of stress.
Research has shown that grateful people are more agreeable, open, and less neurotic. Additionally, gratitude is strongly related to satisfaction with life and low narcissism. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that being grateful comes with many benefits that can contribute to you living a happy, fulfilled life.
What should I be grateful for?
Even if life is difficult and seemingly unenjoyable for you right now, there are still things that you can be grateful for. You can be grateful to your friends for being your companions in life, grateful for your partner for supporting you, grateful for your sense of sight letting you see the colours in life, grateful for your sense of hearing for letting you hear rain on the windows, the voices of your loved ones, and music. You can be grateful to have a roof over your head to shelter you from harsh weather, grateful for the diverse range of food available, grateful for internet access, and grateful for life’s challenges pushing you to grow as a person.
How can I practice gratitude?
Here are some ways you may choose to express gratitude:
- Gratitude can be enhanced using the 3 Blessings strategy above. This is easy to do and a very effective way of bring gratitude into your life everyday. It is also a very positive way to drift off to sleep.
- Visit someone who has been especially kind or helpful to you, but whom you have never properly thanked
- Write a letter of thanks to someone (you can give it to them if you choose to do so)
- Keep a blog where you post about the things you are grateful for
- Keep a gratitude journal (whether physical or digital)
- Focus on simple things (e.g. the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, the breeze on your skin) as you try and bring mindfulness into your day.