A couple of years ago I used to go to sleep every night being angry at myself – for consuming too many calories that day, slipping up on my diet, not exercising enough. Angry at my body for not being thin enough, angry at my mind for not being smart enough. Gratitude was never something I thought about much in terms of my own self worth – I said my thankyou’s when appropriate and was always grateful for the people in my life and what they did for me but I always tended to magnify my burdens rather than my blessings. I started to read about gratitude around a year ago and have only seriously practiced it for around 6 months.
So what is gratitude and why is it so important?
Gratitude – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
This concept has gained a lot of interest in the media recently. Studies have found that gratitude improves emotional health, physical health, boosts our immune system, cultivates creativity, strengthens relationships and helps decrease loneliness, depression and anxiety. It also plays a powerful role in eating disorder recovery as it increases positive thought patterns, opens us up to experiencing joy and happiness and helps us remove our preoccupation from our bodies and increase self esteem. This makes sense – occasionally there are times when I still think I’m not good enough and perhaps I should be leaner/stronger etc. However, when I focus on what my body can do, my outlook completely changes. For example, instead of seeing my legs as bulky, I appreciate them for carrying me round all day every day, enabling me to walk, run, go to the gym. Instead of seeing my stomach as not as lean as it used to be, I am SO grateful for what that softness in my belly represents – my ability to go out and enjoy proper food with my friends and family, date nights eating pizza, endless breakfasts of pancakes, a flexible diet full of amazing food. My body is amazing and I am so thankful that despite the shit I’ve put it through, it still fights for me every single day.
We have become so used to bashing ourselves it has become (+ maybe always has been) more normal to express the things we hate about ourselves rather than the things we love. For instance if we heard a girl say “I LOVE the way I look today” the majority of peoples initial response would be that she’s “too full of herself”. Think about it – why is being full of ourselves a bad thing?
When we are full of ourselves, we are full up.
We lead rich, full, abundant lives,
We are full, satisfied, happy, content, grateful,
We don’t look to other things to fill us up
Mel Wells – The Goddess Revolution
My own personal gratitude practice started very simply – just thinking of three things I was grateful for before I went to sleep. I was absolutely amazed by how quickly this practice spread into every corner of my life. How stressful situations suddenly became less intense, and a negative thought could be so easily counteracted with a positive one. I admit there are occasional times when I, and everyone else, tend to drown in negativity and it’s pretty tricky to practice gratefulness. However, there is always something to be thankful for, and this can completely change your whole perception of life for the better.
There are so many ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Personally I often like to write down what I am thankful for in that particular day/week, but just thinking it to yourself first thing when you wake up or last thing before you go to sleep works too. Alternatively you could write a letter to someone you’re grateful too or talk about it with a friend – it has been shown that discussing what you’re grateful for with someone close to you can be extremely powerful in increasing happiness and positivity.
So what are you grateful for? My constants are always my family, my boyfriend and my friends but specific personal examples for me are:
- Coming home to a warm house after walking home in the freezing cold
- Being home with my mum when I’m back from uni
- Snuggling up on the sofa with my best friend watching TV in the evening
- Having a training partner at the gym who motivates me to be better and stronger
- Having tea cooked for me (mostly by my boyfriend who is the best chef ever)
- Seeing family I haven’t seen for months at a time
- Having time to do yoga and meditation in the morning
- Spending quality time with my baby niece
- Brunches with my dad
When you start to celebrate and appreciate the little things you’ve always taken for granted, your life will change for the better.