health, mental health

2018 – Commencing as I mean to go on – with Gratitude

Positive Psychology research has been demonstrating pretty clearly, for quite a while now, that there are significant benefits to engaging in a practice of showing gratitude.  It seems that these benefits are not just psychological, but also extend to our physical and social wellbeing.  Some of these benefits are described in this article https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude.  And if, as the research suggests, being grateful can help with increasing happiness reducing depression  enhancing empathy reducing aggression, improving self esteem and reducing stress, then it would seem like madness not to engage in this practice as often as possible!

I often “prescribe” my patients to keep a Gratitude Journal.  Martin Seligman introduced this idea as the “What-Went-Well Exercise,” many years ago, and in his 2012 book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being he again describes this concept with the explanation:

We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.

For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.

He then provided this strategy to help improve psychological wellbeing:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause … “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”

This kind of writing can be quite hard, and tends to make people feel pretty self conscious initially, but most people find it gets easier if they stick with it.  And the benefits are pretty clear.

So, this year, after many years of asking others to keep a journal of gratitude, I have decided to share my own.  I am choosing a slightly different approach for documenting my gratitude in 2018, but I expect that the outcome will be similar, as it will still require me to practice being grateful. To stop and take note of the good things, no matter how small. To take the time to acknowledge them, and why they matter to me.  I hope to keep a photographic record of the things that have made me grateful – just one per day, and to spend the time thinking about why it felt important to me. I have fixed today’s photo to this post, but mostly I will rely on the instantly accessible facebook.  If you would like to join my little journey into gratitude, I would be glad to have you along for the ride at https://www.facebook.com/QLDFamilySupport Maybe you could add some gratefulphotos of your own?

 

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Main Beach, Noosa. 7am New Years Day, 2018.  This morning I am grateful to live in a place where I am safe; where I have the freedom to enjoy a place as beautiful as this without needing to ask permission.  I am grateful to be able to take the time to sit and enjoy my morning coffee surrounded by natural beauty, witho.

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