Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Practicing Gratitude: Acknowledging with Thanks

Hello, my name is Daisy and I am on a placement with Sally as an assistant psychologist.  At Ahead Psychology, Sally and I invite clients (and we try to remember ourselves), to write down something that we are grateful for each day in a shared journal.  Sally has asked me to write a blog about the importance of gratitude, by giving you this window into our journal we hope to inspire you to notice what is already around you that is often unseen and through noticing these things, inspire you do more of what brings you joy. 

And what is the point? 

It has been found that people who practice gratitude are less likely to be effected by negative emotions and are more likely to feel satisfied with their lives. The Positive Psychology Program discusses “The 28 Benefits of Gratitude”. These all fit into five main benefits:

1.    Emotional– Enhancing happiness, psychological wellbeing and positivity
2.    Social– Improving relationships with others and consequently social support
3.    Personality– Increasing levels of optimism and enthusiasm 
4.    Career– Greater patience and managerial skills
5.    Health– Reducing high blood pressure, sleeplessness and depressive symptoms 

Our mind’s job is to keep us alive and so it is always looking for danger, this normal negative focus means we can often end up existing rather than really LIVING!  A gratitude journal can allow us to shift our attention to the positives around us, however small, enabling us to savour these experiences and begin to consider how we can do more of them!  Through completing the shared journal at Ahead Psychology, people are invited to read and contribute if they are willing, through this we hope to create a sense of connection and shared experience where we can all GIVEand receive inspiration.

Themes of Gratitude

In reviewing the themes in the journal The Five Winning Ways to Wellbeing (like a mental health five a day) all came up as things that we are grateful for.

The biggest theme that emerged was CONNECTEDNESS.  Whether this is being grateful to others for giving support or our connecting with others through our actions.  Comments were about opening up to and willingly accepting the support of others, such as work colleagues, parents or friends and subsequently finding people felt more acknowledged and heard. Keeping connected with friends and family also involved simply “having a laugh” and sharing fun times together.  By keeping a note of how grateful this makes us, we can try to incorporate more time in our busy lives to have fun and do something special with those we care about.

It also became clear from reading the journal entries that another of the common themes involved BEING PRESENT and NOTICING and how this gave a new perspective on experiences.  This was particularly clear in entries about the activation of the senses by the outside environment.  Just noticing the “fresh air”, “warmth of the sun” and the “smell of the rain” allows us, for a moment, to let go of the virtual reality our mind often creates for us.  To let go of the internal struggles with our thoughts and feelings and connect with the real world and what is really happening around us. 

This reminds me of a metaphor we use in sessions: The sky and the weather. It goes like this, there is a part of you that is the observing self and that is like the sky, your thoughts and feelings are like the ever-changing weather.  As the sky we can learn to watch our internal experiences the same way we can notice the weather, knowing that sooner or later they will change and no matter how strong the storm is the sky is not harmed by the weather, it always has room for it all.  Take a look at this clip under playlists on Sally’s YouTube Channel to see this metaphor in greater detail:

Something that Sally and I often do in sessions is to invite clients to experiment with mindful eating.   Have you noticed how day to day we often rush our eating, mindlessly putting food in our mouths without noticing the appearance, texture, sound, smell and taste of the food? Eating in this hurried way, we often miss out on the pleasure of food, even finding we’ve over eaten and had something we later regret! Many of the entries in the gratitude journal reminded me of this experience, whereby something that occurred daily seemed to have the same effect of bringing us into the present moment and stimulating the senses, allowing us to take a few moments to be grateful of this experience and not simply taking it for granted. I now try to add mindful eating into my day, every so often just taking that time to appreciate that first mouthful and not lose that moment to every day distractions. I find the easiest time to practice mindful eating is in the evening after a busy day. However, the most beneficial time for me to practice this would probably be mid-day, instead of having a “working lunch” or eating on the go.  The key in all this is to become more aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations in the present, so that we can take meaningful, helpful action! It always comes back to NOTICING AND CHOOSING.

Another theme I noticed was the importance of SELF CARE, often seeing this around exercise.  BEING ACTIVE and making the time to go for that morning run or afternoon Zumba class was important to people, they commented about noticing the excuses of why not to go AND still doing it and then feeling great for doing so! People found that by looking after themselves they were more able to move towards their values, often around being there for others (think putting the oxygen mask on yourself before others on a plane). This though involves a willingness to prioritise our own needs, something that can be hard to do with that little voice saying that “its selfish” AND its possible to make room for that guilty feeling AND still do it! One of the Five Winning Ways to Wellbeing involves GIVING, not only to others, but also giving something to yourself. 

Going forward I would welcome you to experiment with this idea of developing your own gratitude practice for yourself, take time out and step back from your busy schedule and become immersed in the present moment.  Notice the things you may have previously just sleepwalked past/through on autopilot.  Perhaps dedicate a set time in the day, such as before you have dinner or as you get in to bed to think of a few things you are grateful for today, can they give you ideas of what to do more of tomorrow? Sally also has a Gratitude Jar she uses as home, and whether you are family or friends, over dinner you’re invited to pop something in and share a positive conversation.  Another idea on how to practice this is from one client, Lizzie, she has got really into this idea and has discovered a free app called Happy Feed (Happy Feed Website and App); it invites you to note three things you are grateful each day, you can even add photos of moments to savour.  So whatever method you try, be curious and give it a go for yourself today…….

Our invitation for a daily gratitude practice: Give THANKS

imes you’ve been happy that made you smile or laugh
ow you’ve been, what you’ve done e.g. brave, helpful
chievements however big or small
atural world and the beauty of nature
indness of others, things they’ve said or done
urprises (nice ones!)

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