Getting in the Gratitude Groove

Even though most of us think of ourselves as grateful people, few of us actually take time to consciously connect with our gratitude in a way that allows us to genuinely feel its radiant beauty and upsurging joy to the extent that we could. Discover how to tune in more consciously to this life-affirming emotion.

Gratitude is one of the six most common forms of positivity.  When it’s sincere – coming not from rote politeness, but from the heart – it opens and warms us and kindles joy and a desire to reciprocate the kindnesses received.  In fact, in her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, describes a dozen scientifically proven strategies to make yourself happier.  The first?  Expressing gratitude.

But, as is the case with many forms of positivity, the good stuff doesn’t stop at a warm feeling in your chest, as luscious as that is.  Here’s what researchers Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough have discovered in their study of gratitude and thankfulness at the University of California, Davis–

People who regularly used gratitude practices like the ones we’ll discuss below:

  • Exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week;
  • Were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based);
  • Had increased levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy;
  • Were rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks;
  • Had a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more vitality and optimism, and slept better and longer;
  • Were more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others; and
  • Placed less importance on material goods; they were less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they were less envious of wealthy persons; and were more likely to share their possessions with others.

Clearly, counting your blessings packs big mojo as a life-enhancing posture!

The Practice of a Gratitude Ritual

Even though most of us think of ourselves as grateful people, few of us actually take time to consciously connect with our gratitude in a way that allows us to genuinely feel its radiant beauty and upsurging joy to the extent that we could.  Creating a gratitude ritual is a potent way to add more of this enriching emotion to your life.

Personal and Community Gratitude Journaling

One simple way to cultivate more conscious gratitude in your life is to keep a gratitude journal.  This could be anything from a gorgeous leather-bound journal that you keep especially for recording those things for which you’re grateful, to adding notes about gratitude to an existing journal, to creating a gratitude scrapbook.

You may also enjoy using http://www.gratitudelog.com, a social network where you can elect to follow the entries of others whom you select as well as leave entries of your own.  Not only can a shared journal can trigger awareness for you of new or overlooked things that you could feel grateful about, but sharing happiness is a great strategy for increasing it.

How Often?

How often should you contribute to your gratitude journal?  One significant study suggests that making entries once a week is more beneficial than daily entries because you’re less likely to tire of the exercise or to make it into a chore.  A weekly entry may be a nice way to conclude a week, or to begin a new one.  And, of course, if you find yourself brimming with gratitude, make an entry whenever you want.  That’s my favorite strategy:  whenever I want.  Experiment and pick your own.

Alternate Practices:  Ending with Gratitude

If you have little time or inclination for journaling, you may want to adopt the gratitude practice that Barabara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., author of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive invented for herself.

She uses endings that occur throughout her day as a trigger for remembering to tune in to her gratitude.  When a conversation ends, or a class, or when she leaves a room or a building, or completes a project or a task, she closes it by taking a few seconds to appreciate what she has just experienced and to feel gratitude for it.

Imagine what this practice could do for your marriage or your relationship with your kids or parents or a business partner or colleague?  Imagine taking a moment to feel gratitude every time you ended an exchange with one of them!  Powerful stuff!  (And pencil-free, to boot!)

A variation on Fredrickson’s theme is to use doorways as a trigger.  Each time you close a door behind you, remember to be grateful for the experience you are leaving:  A safe ride in your car, a friendly clerk at the store, the comfort of your home, that your refrigeration has food in it, the satisfaction of your job, the way the meeting went, the fact that you enjoy indoor plumbing!

Reviving Grace

Fredrickson also suggests reviving the time-honored ritual of saying grace before meals, either silently or aloud.  “Take a moment,” she says, “to offer your sincere thanks for the food that’s before you.  You choose whom to thank, whether it be God, the earth, farmers, food handlers, chefs, or all of the above.  Feeding yourself will not feel so ordinary if you do.”

Pausing in gratitude before you eat, by the way,  is also conducive to eating more mindfully, a practice that increases your enjoyment of your food and allows you to take more care with the quality and quantities of foods your consume.

Doing the Gratitude Dance

Last, but hardly least, you can learn—and pass along—the uproarious gratitude dance.

In gratefulness for your readership and so I can leave you feeling grateful that you read all the way through this article, here’s the video of the gratitude dance . . .

Stay tuned!  More tips on how to ramp up your Positivity Ratio are coming soon!

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Mindfulness by the Minute

Let’s face it. The challenge of establishing a regular mindfulness routine takes effort, and not everybody is up for it just now. That’s where Mindfulness-by-the-Minute comes in. It’s the baby-step, kaizen, successive approximation, little-by-little method. . .

Mindfulness is, in essence, a matter of waking up and noticing, without judgment, what’s going on.  It’s paying attention to the incredible richness of the here and now.

The ideal, of course, is to be mindful every waking moment.  But for most of us, that goal is a long way off.  In the meantime, we can practice, setting aside a regular time for watching our breathing, or for paying close attention to our actions as we go about our daily routines.

But let’s face it.  The challenge of establishing a regular mindfulness routine takes effort, and not everybody is up for it just now.

Toddling Toward Mindfulness

That’s where Mindfulness-by-the-Minute comes in.  It’s the baby-step, kaizen, successive approximation, little-by-little method.  Call it whatever you like.   It’s the practice of sneaking little bits of mindfulness into your day whenever you happen to remember:

  • Whenever you think of it, pause and take time to watch your breath for a few cycles.
  • Take time just to look around your immediate environment for a minute or two with the goal of really seeing it.  Pretend you never saw it before.  Let yourself notice the way the light falls, the shades of color, the textures, the reflections and shadows, the contours and corners.
  • For a few minutes, just listen.  Listen to the sound of your breath, to the sounds in your immediate environment—the humming of your computer, the purr of the refrigerator or of your car’s engine, to footfalls in the hall, the sounds coming through the window.  See how many you can detect and how, together, they create their own kind of song.
  • Go for a brief walk (even a walk down the hall and back), noticing how your feet connect with the surface below you, how the muscles and joints in your feet, ankles and legs feel, what’s happening in the rest of your body.
  • Do a full body scan, noticing your posture, what part of you is tense or relaxed.  Feel your scalp, your eyelids blinking, the surfaces that your body is contacting: clothing, chair, floor.

Teasing Yourself to Play

String Around FingerJust as setting up a regular time for a mindfulness practice takes effort, remembering to take minutes for mindfulness doesn’t come naturally at first.

You can increase the number of times you remember to practice by setting up triggers for yourself in your environment.

  • Jot reminders on post it notes that you scatter around;
  • Add the word “remember” to your do list; set it up to scroll as a screen saver across your monitor;
  • Slip a loose rubber band on your wrist and when you notice it, let it remind you to take a minute for mindfulness.  Then put the band on the opposite wrist;
  • Associate mindfulness breaks with a number, say 9, and when you run across the number in the course of your day, take a few minutes for mindfulness;
  • Link mindfulness to an act you perform several times in the course of your day, such as washing your hands, standing in a line; looking at your watch, or opening a door;

Trance Busters

One of the reasons that we sink so easily into non-mindful trance states is because, for efficiency’s sake, we do so many things on auto-pilot.  And while our habits and routines do serve us in some ways, they also become like little prisons of the mind, locking us into patterns of sleep-walking behaviors.

Intentionally altering an unconscious routine puts you on instant alert.  All of a sudden, you have to pay attention.   Just for the fun of it, let some of these routine-breakers serve as awareness triggers for you:

  • In the shower, start washing on the side opposite the one you usually choose;
  • Same with dressing: put the other arm in the sleeve, the other leg in the pants first, start with the opposite sock;
  • Park in a different section of frequently used parking lots than you normally do (and make sure to pay attention to where so you can find your car when you want to return to it!);
  • When you grocery shop, start at the far aisle of the store;
  • Sit on a different side of the table when you eat;
  • Take a different route home from work;
  • Try walking backward to and from your kitchen;
  • Walk with slightly larger or smaller steps.

This is a very freeing exercise.  Once you begin to play with it, you quickly begin to discover how many unconscious habits fill your day.  And the simple act of noticing them is, in itself, another way of generating more awareness.

Savor the Mindful Minutes

Creating more positivity in our lives is a skill that grows from a foundation of noticing.  The more mindful minutes you build into your day, the more aware you become.  It’s all a matter of paying attention.

But in addition to building your self-awareness, mindfulness carries its own rewards.  It opens you to the freshness of every passing moment, to the rich array of data every moment holds.  It connects you to yourself and to the world around you.  It anchors you in the center of yourself and in the center of the ever-changing present.

As your day comes to a close, take time to review the moments of mindfulness you experienced throughout the day and savor them.   If you journal, jot them down.  If you don’t already journal, jotting down your mindful moments is a great way to start.

In any case, treat yourself to some brief reflection over your mindful experiences.  The more you reinforce them, the more of them you’ll find tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the longer they will linger each time.

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Keeping on Track: Tools for the Road

Three cool tools for expanding your positivity . . . Free for the taking.

Where’s Your Positivity Ratio Today?

The magic number is 3:1 – three positive experiences for every negative one. Achieve that and you pass the tipping point where you begin to move in a continuous upward spiral toward ever more positive living. Surpass it and you’re begin to soar.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, whose research uncovered the positivity ratio, has a 2-minute online test you can take that will give you your score for the day.

If you use it consistently for awhile, you will not only get a sense of your level of positivity, but increase your awareness of the kinds of emotions you’re feeling throughout the day and gently incline your mind toward those activities that bring you more joyous living.

For a wealth of insight into the benefits of positivity and solid, scientific methods for achieving it, I whole heartedly recommend Dr. Fredrickson’s vibrant, joyfully written book,  Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive

You can listen to Dr. Fredrickson talk about her book here:

Are You Staying on Course?

How strong is your commitment to positivity? Did you intentionally use a positivity practice today?  Did you:

  • Remember to smile?
  • Extend kindness?
  • Take time to notice the goodness in your life?
  • Get in touch with your gratitude?
  • Engage in interesting work, or an absorbing hobby, sport or creative activity?
  • Practice mindfulness?
  • Work toward doing more of a beneficial activity, or less of a detrimental one?

Keep track of how many days in a row you practiced by using this free online tracker: Don’t Break the Chain. Or, for a free tracker that will also send you email and Twitter reminders, enroll at Create New Habits.

Need a Mindfulness Nudge?

Hop on over to Wayne C. Allen’s blog, The Pathless Path,  and pick up a free online timer that will remind you at random intervals to pause and center yourself in the here and now.

Wayne describes himself as “a simple Zen guy [who] writes about living and relating elegantly.” In 2007, as he was writing about paying attention, he remembered that a bell is rung at random intervals in zen monasteries. When they hear its sound, the monks pause to evaluate their level of presence. He had the timer created so that all of us could participate in remembering to be present as well.

Just go to the link above to download the small program and easy installation instructions.  And while you’re there, treat yourself to some of Wayne’s lively, heartfelt, and thought-provoking posts.

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Mindfulness as a Political Act: The Wisdom of Willie Horton

“You gotta see this guy, Willie Horton. What a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is approach!” my friend said. And he sent me a link to one of Willie’s videos.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me, “You gotta see this guy, Willie Horton.  What a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is approach!”  And he sent me a link to one of Willie’s videos.

According to his website, “Willie Horton works with Fortune 500 companies – including Pfizer, Deloitte, Merrill Lynch, KPMG, Wyeth, PwC, Nestlé and Allergan – enabling their top people to become super-effective, super-successful. Author, world-class speaker and mentor to leading figures, Willie’s Irish charm and wit masks a deep and encyclopaedic mind that can impart life-changing wisdom in the space of five minutes.”

I signed up for his mailing list and last week, synchronistically enough, his mid-week article was about mindfulness – just as I was writing about it – and how it relates to success in our economically challenging times.

Willie urges people to stop being “normal.”  The norm is mad, mediocre and mindless, he says.  To give you a taste of Willie’s style, here are some excerpts from his June 9 article, “Forget the Recession – Here’s How to Succeed:”

“If you want to see things change, you can’t expect other normal people to effect that change, it has to start with you and me.  It has to start within, with a change of heart.   Hard factual evidence from the US Federal Government proves that the state of mind of a small group has a ripple effect.   Hard evidence from the world of quantum physics proves conclusively that energy – yours and mine – has an effect on the energy of the universe.  In other words, it is up to you and me to change the world – a change that cannot and never will take place until we change ourselves. . .

“The cards are stacked against you – not only is your default state of mind negative, but you are surrounded by people who share the same default settings.   It’s up to you to change, to pull yourself together and call a halt to the nonsense of so-called normal living.  You need to rise above all that and become abnormal.   Unlike normal people, you need to develop your innate ability to be mindful, to pay full attention to what is actually possible – you have to stop feeding the negative frenzy.

“Mindfulness is simply about paying attention – not to what you think is going on, but to what is actually happening in the present moment.   We are alive, we are living and breathing.  And each breath that we take we are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to behave outside the sad norm of the negative.   Each moment provides us with a unique opportunity to take control of our state of mind and do the right thing – because perpetuating the negative is clearly the wrong thing.

“You develop mindfulness by clearing your mind, by taking one step back from the negative circus in which so many people seem to be taking a perverse pleasure.   You need to start each day by ensuring that your mind is within your own control.  This is done by taking a few minutes – only five or ten minutes will do – to pay attention before the challenges of the day or cares of the world come seeking your acquiescence.  So, tomorrow morning, slow down.  Take time to experience shaving, showering, brushing your teeth, chatting with your family – before the day starts.  It is in these few moments that we can change our minds – and change our lives.”

The same ezine issue features a wonderful video on “How to be Inspired – and Inspirational,” that’s well-worth the investment of five minutes of your time.  In addition to his insights, you get the added treat of hearing his delightful Irish brogue.

Mr. Horton’s website is chockfull of free articles and videos on a wide range of self-development topics.  Sign up for his free ezine and you’ll receive one of his inspiring, no-nonsense videos each Monday and an article on Wednesdays.  Take some time to explore it and you’re guaranteed to find more than a few things that will be of personal value to you.

 

 

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