The last two posts were about a day without a negative aspect (complaining and judging) These were very enlightening experiments. But now it’s time to focus more deeply on the positive side. Previous posts have included the value of gratitude and appreciation, but lately I’ve become more aware of their incredible power. And, more importantly, I’ve become more aware that I haven’t been doing them regularly! Yea sure, I’ve been grateful for lots of stuff and I appreciate tons of things. But honestly, it’s been kind of a hit or miss activity. I do it when the mood strikes me or when I’m in pre-crisis mode and need it as an emotional emergency pick-me-up!
Noticing that I (still!) tend to focus a little on the what-is-lacking-in-my-life side, I decided to really get on the gratitude-appreciation bandwagon and see what happens. There is a definite power in writing things down, like helping with focus and motivation. And it also comes in handy for accountable reasons. In other words, the ego can’t trick us by saying we already were thankful today, when we really weren’t (After looking on dated list: ‘Oh yea, that was yesterday…’). So, I’ve got a piece of paper (a journal just sounds too formal and off-putting for now) and I’m writing down about 5 to 10 things every day that I am grateful for. That’s it. My aim is to do this for 30 days, but again, that sounds too formal. I’m going to try it out for a few days (thus, the alternate title) and see how it goes.
Benefits of Gratitude and Appreciation
During the experiment I did some research about its possible benefits. Studies have actually been done that show the beneficial effects of gratitude and appreciation. People who consistently practice gratitude report feeling better physically, are less depressed, sleep better, are more understanding of others’ wrongdoings, have more self-worth, mental focus, and resilience. Gratitude also helps us to stay in the present. In other words, we spend less time worrying about future events. When we are more focused on finding the good, we naturally spend less time in the negativity mindset.
Additionally, there is the law of attraction angle on gratitude and appreciate – what we focus on, we get more of. To get more good stuff, appreciate what we already have. Simple enough.
Back to the experiment! After a couple of days, one of my first thoughts upon waking was that I couldn’t wait to write on my gratitude list. That’s especially significant because, some mornings, I wake up dreading my day. Having an initial feeling of excitement and joy is a major turn-around!
Shortly thereafter, I didn’t want to wait till the next day to write on it. So, I wrote on it twice a day, then three times a day. But under no pressure, only if I felt the urge. I only “had” to write on it once a day.
Some neat things started to happen. Nothing noticeable to an outsider, but small things that mattered a lot to me, like, less time with an irritating co-worker, getting well-priced deals, finding $1 and $10 on the ground, a small pay raise, life-changing insights, meaningful dreams, an overall more joyful feeling.
Another neat thing was that I had a dream about something to be grateful for that I hadn’t thought of in waking life. This showed my waking self that the feeling and energy of gratitude was now in my subconscious, as well. So even when I’m not actively thinking about gratitude, I’m thinking about gratitude. This must be a good indicator!
Then, after several days of writing down heaps of material possessions, as well as, relationships and nature-type things –and even though it was certainly nowhere near all-encompassing– a shift in subject matter began to happen. I shifted from obvious things for which to be grateful, to the people that had a part in assembling those things I was grateful for! The factory workers that made my appliances, my car, my clothes, my electronic devices…pretty much every material thing I owned, somebody had a part in creating it. Without their contribution, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy so many of my belongings.
Then there’s the people that came up with the ideas to invent something new or improved and those that started a business. And gratitude for their courage to follow through with the ideas. Then it extended to people that were providing a service, like the cleaning guy at work, trash collectors that come to my house every week, the postal carrier that nicely places oversized packages on my porch (extra appreciation since Amazon Prime!). And then to authors, which I love and have been so inspired by, that had the strength and took the time to write, organize, and complete their books. And then and then and then…so many people working for me, helping me. Most of whom I do not even know.
I was recognizing that the Universe was supporting me, not hurting me or trying to make my life miserable. This is a major shift in perception.
Amidst the gratitude, the ego chimed in and said, ‘That’s their jobs. They aren’t doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re getting paid for it’. Kaboom – my bubble burst. But I quickly realized, their motives not need affect my gratitude. And then got back to the experiment.
I started recognizing good things about myself, my appearance, things I was good at, and my strengths. Then I noticed things I did not necessarily like about myself but was grateful for anyhow. For instance, I was grateful for my fear of sending a professional email to a stranger regarding an article submission (that I so badly wanted to work out). I was grateful for my fear because it provided me with an opportunity to feel worthy and courageous by facing a fear.
With this in mind, I then intentionally thought of situations that weren’t so great and then appreciated them, as well. (I have done this practice before but, again, in a haphazard fashion.) For instance, I was grateful for a “bad” event because it was an opportunity for personal growth and to learn from mistakes and flaws. I was even grateful that someone had wronged me because it helped me get better at honoring myself. Could being grateful be helpful in increasing self-worth? I don’t fully understand the why of this, but the answer seems to be, yes!
I then had a glimpse of knowing that current things that weren’t so great would be okay eventually. So I was able to have gratitude for “bad” times before they got better. This led to gratitude for things that I currently desired but did not yet have. I was appreciating them ahead of time. That’s some trust and faith right there!
And after that, I experienced nirvana! (Yes, let’s be overly dramatic about this!) It was just a fleeting moment, but for that jiffy, I truly did not care about my desires. I honestly was happy, satisfied, and content in the moment right then and there as things currently were. No guilt about my past, no worry about the future, not wanting anything different than how it was in that exact instant.
And then my heavenly state was gone. But, I could tell what was happening over the course of this experiment – my gratitude was becoming unconditional. In that, there is total freedom because I don’t need conditions to be a certain way to be grateful for them or…to be happy. What I have figured out from this gratitude experiment is that gratitude helps us to focus our thoughts, our attention, our lives on finding the good – unconditionally, no matter what. As the Dalai Lama says in The Art of Happiness, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”. The power is within ourselves whether to be grateful and happy, or not. This experiment surely is proof of that.
Disclaimer!! I don’t want to give a false impression that I am now impeccably blissful and every time a challenge comes up I am grateful for it from the get-go. I still have my daily issues and concerns. But, there has been an undeniable shift. Something is certainly different than before I did the gratitude experiment. And that’s why I’m going to extend the experiment. If a mere 30 days had this effect, then what will continuing on do? I intend to find out!
Don’t take my word for all of this. Start your own Gratitude List Experiment today and see what happens for you. No need to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by needing to list the unconditional things. Just start out with a few material objects you appreciate having in your life. Your list will expand naturally on its own. Happy Gratituding!