By CareerActually contributor, Amelia Ishikawa
Last week I wrote a little about my experience with the job hunt and how it has awakened in me the need to reconnect with my ‘who.’ I have been touched by the encouragement and the stories of gratitude that have been shared via this blog and also to my personal account.
Today I want to talk about gratitude some more – I mean really talk about it. Often we go so far as to say ‘yes, I should really count my blessings – I have so much to be grateful for,’ and we might even manage it for a few days, until the next calamity strikes.
On my quest for knowledge about gratitude I have come across some wonderful studies and literature reviews like this one confirming that gratitude can definitely contribute to our sense of well-being. In some cases gratitude has even been found to be as effective as proven clinical techniques for improving affect.
This discovery conjures in my mind the image of hippies, religionists and science people all holding hands and nodding sagely as they dance around the flame of thankfulness. This is marvellous! Everyone is in agreement that gratitude is good for us. This is something worth taking seriously.
What gratitude doesn’t look like – an important distinction
Before I started to really think about gratitude as a way of ‘being’ rather than a thing you ‘do’ I used to confuse it with the burdensome feeling of indebtedness, a denial of reality or even the tempting of fate. We hear it all the time ‘Oh, I’m so thankful, I haven’t been sick in 4 years! I bet now that I said that I’m going to get pneumonia.’ Yes, waiting for the other shoe to drop can really kill gratitude dead in its tracks.
So, what does an orientation towards gratitude look like?
Because of the way I work, I find it easiest to create a mental image – I can’t help myself. I imagine my mind to be like my grandmothers lounge room, full of interesting nooks and corners, some things ancient, some things new, some drawers better left unopened. Above the fireplace is a vast mantle piece, that’s the focal point of the room, it’s where the eye can’t help but travel. The mantelpiece of my mind plays a very important role in my attitude. Do I choose to decorate it with woes and anxieties and disappointments? I think it would serve me better to display my joys, my strengths and things that I’m grateful for, front and centre.
This is quite a long-winded way of talking about the organisation and prioritisation of our thoughts. These past few weeks I’ve been consciously focussing on, and displaying my ornaments of gratitude, big and small, and I can vouch that it has made a tremendous difference to my daily experience.
How can we cultivate gratitude?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve taken a couple of minutes out of my day before bed-time to list 3-4 things that I’m grateful for. I’ve noticed that this practise has started to colour my experiences throughout the day, I’ve become more mindful of the things that I’m grateful for as they’re happening.
It doesn’t mean that bad and terrible things don’t happen or that we should put our heads in the sand when they do. Throughout or careers we will be faced with many challenges be it an unwanted redundancies, periods of unemployment, difficult workplace relationships or job dissatisfaction. Gratitude provides a solid ground as we walk though the unpredictability that is life. It provides the knowledge that there is always something, even if it’s a teeny tiny thing, to celebrate. Maybe that will be all it takes to give us the strength to persevere or even push us into our next great adventure.
Another practise that I’ve been focusing on is really observing and acknowledging others. I’ve been really appreciating the magnificent people in my life, and nothing could make me feel more abundant than when I reflect on the encouragement from friends and strangers, hilarious texts and cups of coffee with loved ones or weird but funny things my kids say. Further than noticing, I’ve been more vocal in my expression of gratitude, for the little things and big things. As you can imagine, my expressions of thanks have a positive effect on the recipient but I think an even greater effect on me.
These are such simple practises, I’m almost regretful that I don’t have anything cutting edge to suggest. But that’s the beauty of gratitude, we don’t need any fancy resources or more time, or energy, we just need to choose to gently orient towards it.