I will assume that those of you reading this article are doing so because you have either read or been told by someone of the immense benefits of practicing daily gratitude. And like me and many others I know, I tried it out because the reported benefits of doing it and the wealth of evidence backing up the benefits, was enough to convince me to start. So I started it but struggled to form a habit of it and hence eventually stopped it completely.
However, I still struggled to understand why it was so hard for me as I have managed to form habits before and I sincerely believed in the value of doing it. Taking a more analytical approach, I decided to try to understand where the issue lay by better understanding how habits are often formed. Very simply it works by firstly having a trigger, then doing it and rewarding oneself or reflecting upon how one feels after doing the activity. I realized that the issue with me was that I honestly did not feel the benefits of doing it and went with the assumption that it had more to do with perhaps how I was doing it.
I decided that my daily gratitude practice needed to be deeper and more meaningful for me. I actually needed to understand WHY the things I were listing were so important to me, that is, how was it connected to my values.
I had already done the work of nurturing my self-awareness of gaining clarity on my values, strengths, what energizes and depletes my energy and key areas of my life that I wanted to focus on developing. So this made it easier for me to link what I was grateful for and why. The above was a process and a key part of it involved reflecting upon key moments, experiences, challenges and achievements in my life that stood out for me. This served as the basis of helping define my values and goals.
I used all of the above in my daily gratitude practice but in the reverse way. I first reflected upon WHAT is important to me and then thought about occurrences in my life in the last day that fulfilled these values or supported some of my goals. The outcome was simple yet transformational. Here is list of some extracts of things I documented in my gratitude journal:
1. I am grateful for the fact that I not only have enough to eat but that I have the luxury of choice of food
WHY: While a student in South Africa, I volunteered at a center in Durban that provided temporary shelter and food for orphaned kids who lived on the streets. Most of these kids were addicted to a substance referred to as “glue” which is an appetite suppressant and also provides warmth. A substance they turned to in desperation for lack of food and shelter and to which they also eventually became addicted to. Its difficult to say why this experience stood out as a memory for me, but it nevertheless left a deep and lasting impression.
2. I am grateful for my bed, shower and the fact that we own our home.
WHY: I grew up in a country where roughly 79% of the population live below the poverty line and homelessness is rampant. In addition, I was never homeless but there were constant concerns and fears of losing our home. It had less to do perhaps with the concern of not having shelter but rather of what it represented.
3. I am grateful for the big stack of books next to my bed
WHY: As crazy as this sounds, when I wake up or go to bed every night, seeing my stack of books next to me makes me feel happy, safe and grounded. Like many kids and adults, sometimes when things were challenging, I escaped into my books. So began a lifelong passion for literature but also nurtured my love of continuous learning, which is the value that has had the greatest influence on many of my life decisions
4. The joy of raising thoughtful, empathetic, self-aware children
I normally cut my hair once a year when we are in South Africa as it is a quarter of the price in relation to where I currently live. Yes, I love cost efficiency and yet sometimes splurge on the oddest of items. We are traveling to South Africa soon and my daughter suggested we instead cut our hair at home this time before we go. Why? Because she knows how much I love and miss my family and would not the time spent cutting our hair in South Africa be better invested in spending time with our family?
WHY: My children are a constant source of joy and learning and serve as motivation and inspiration to continuously learn and develop myself, to be the parent they deserve.
5. The joy of raising a non conformist child who wants to help others
When asked by his teacher what he would like to be when he grows up, my son said he would like to be Batman as he wants to help people.
WHY: Albeit, am sure a big part if his response had to do with having a cool costume and weapons, I loved that the non-conformist creative in him was not afraid to provide an unconventional answer and that this beautiful soul wants to have a positive impact on others
6. Being surrounded by people in my life who make me feel safe, valued, appreciated, accepted as I am who want only what is best for me and who are constantly there to support, without me even having to ask
WHY: No one has a perfect childhood and I do believe all families are dysfunctional in some way or the other. But I was nevertheless fortunate to have a family who made me feel safe, loved me unconditionally and accepted me as I am. Therefore, for me, family became less a concept of the family I was born or married into, but rather this feeling that people in my life gave me. It’s a must have rather than a nice to have, in order for me to feel grounded where I am.
7. Feeling connected with literally every person I meet
WHY: No I am not a saint and I do not like every person I meet and yes there are plenty of nasty people around. However, while I do not excuse their bad behaviors, I can still appreciate that the source of a lot of this is insecurity, pain and fear and that they CHOOSE to deal with it unconstructively. I can still find a way to connect on a human level with these individuals too. This is because I value empathy.
Often people who meet me remark on my happy positive nature. And no I do not have a perfect life and yes I have days where I feel sad and don’t want to get out of bed either. I have challenges, pain, insecurities, fears and anxieties like everyone person I know. The practice of gratitude does not take away all the other stuff but serves me by:
· Building resilience and allowing me to bounce back easier from setbacks
· Helps me focus on that in my life which actually serves me and is important to me
· Acts as an internal compass to remind me of who I truly am
· Remind me that life was never meant to be perfect and many of the setbacks I have experienced have served as the greatest sources of my growth and development