Several years ago I started a gratitude journal and that decision has been, without a doubt, one of the best things I have ever done for myself.
Benefits of gratitude.
I didn’t know it then but the benefits of a gratitude journal are well researched and documented.
Numerous studies have proven benefits including; decreased feelings of aggression and stress, improved self-esteem, increased mental strength and enhanced resilience.
Gratitude also improves relationships, health and even sleep.
Shaun Achor happiness researcher and author of the Happiness Advantage has demonstrated that keeping a gratitude journal increases base levels of happiness by around 20%.
Personally I started my journal at a point when I was very busy with my family, my career (my day job) and my business (my night job). I was also spending hours every week coaching sports, studying martial arts, running and working out. I managing my share of the household chores including yard work on our large city lot as well as our “vacation” property.
But the problems wasn’t that I was too busy. The real issue was that I was too busy comparing everyone else.
No matter what I did there was someone else who did it better. There were better martial artists, better coaches and faster runners. People had better paying careers, nicer homes and much more successful businesses.
Because of my comparisons I pushed myself to get better at everything yet the more I tried the less happy I became. I was becoming a perfectionist and the results were not pretty.
Looking back I could blame the circumstances of the day for my malady.
After all I was the product of a very materialistic society and a senior leader in an organization that supported a somewhat competitive environment. We had a culture of ranking one manager against another. But the fact of the matter is that my perfectionism, competitiveness and resulting unhappiness was entirely my own fault.
One of the challenges with perfectionism and competitiveness, is that most of us can’t simply turn it on and off. A perfectionist at work is a perfectionist at home, and a person who is critical at work is probably equally critical at home.
Yet no matter how hard I tried nothing I ever did was even close to perfection.
In fact, despite all of the hard work, promotions and money I sometimes felt barely adequate. The result of my unfulfilled perfectionism was that I felt stressed, overwhelmed and angry.
Looking back I now see that I always had a wonderful life. I had a great family and an awesome career that paid well and still allowed me plenty of time off. I was healthy, strong, and I had all the toys and gadgets that I could ever want.
What I lacked was the ability to enjoy those things as much as I wanted or to appreciate those gifts as much as they deserved.
But my gratitude journal changed all that. I can’t exactly remember what triggered the change, but knowing my stubborn nature it must have been something significant.
Getting started was easy.
Creating my gratitude journal was simple and easy.
Every morning I would sit down with a cup of coffee and write down three things that I was grateful for.
I also made it a rule that I couldn’t write about the same thing twice in one week. By setting a no repeat rule I hoped to avoid falling into some sort of gratitude rut.
Once I started looking I found a virtually infinite number of things to be grateful for;
I would write about my lovely wife, my son and the rest of my family.
I would describe my appreciation for a good cup of coffee, a warm and comfortable bed, my cats, my job, my neighbors or just the weather.
Over time I began to I realize that my life was one big gift. Just the fact that I was living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada was, and is, a stroke of amazing fortune. There is literally no place on the planet I would rather live, and no time in history would I rather be living in.
At first the whole gratitude journal thing felt a little awkward and silly. I didn’t talk about it, but I still did it most days. But with time I got better at being grateful.
After a while I became very good at gratitude. Now when I give thanks for the fresh water that comes out of my taps I don’t just think about myself. I think about all of the people in Canada who have safe drinking water and I remember all the people who dedicate their time to making that water available to us all.
The more I practice gratitude the better I become at it and the happier I become. The more I use it the stronger my gratitude muscle gets.
Once my gratitude journal was well established I naturally began to take gratitude pauses where I would stop to appreciate the gifts in my life. Some days it was a little thing; like the smell of fresh mowed grass, sometimes it would be bigger things; like the fact I have plenty of healthy food to eat.
Just a few months ago I started yet another gratitude practice. I began meditating on gratitude.
Instead of focussing on my breathing as I have done for years I spend at least five minutes every day focussed on feeling grateful for the good things in my life.
I found that the more I focus on feeling gratitude the stronger that feeling of gratitude becomes and the longer it lasts.
At this stage of my life I am literally the happiest I have ever been and I find that the harder I work at being grateful the happier I am.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of gratitude check out THIS article from Forbes.
So what about you?
Are you as grateful as you should be for the gifts in your life or do you take them for granted?
As always thanks for reading Success on the Far Side of Fifty, if there is every anything I can do for you please let me know.
If you are interested in hearing the story of how practicing gratitude helped me have a better experience during my recent colonoscopy please check out the next blog post.