By Frank Kilpatrick
We all want to feel happy and productive. But here’s the Catch 22: the things we do to try to feel that way — working long hours, rushing kids from one activity to the other, and meeting all of life’s obligations — can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and even resentful. (And that’s not counting the complications that spring up.) We may find ourselves thinking: What’s the point of all this hard work if I can’t enjoy my life?
Thankfully, we can feel contentment (and yes, happiness!) even when life is at its most chaotic. It comes not from trying to control your circumstances (which isn’t always possible) but from shifting how you look at them.
I love the saying “Gratitude doesn’t change things for you, it changes you for things.” When we can learn to come from a place of gratitude, we see things differently. There’s a mindset shift that brings peace.
In other words, instead of dreading a tough project at work, we feel gratitude for our job. Instead of feeling stressed about taking our aging mother to the doctor, we’re grateful to be able to spend the afternoon with her.
Of course, you can’t just flip a switch and boom! you’re grateful. Gratitude evolves over time. It’s about building some small, daily habits into your routine — and the new year is the perfect time to start. For example:
Make room in your life for gratitude. Often FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives us to stretch ourselves too thin. But it’s hard to feel grateful when you are overcommitted. Know that it’s totally OK to turn down invitations if you don’t feel like being around others, or to spend the weekend recharging. In fact, immersing yourself in the Gratitude meditation series is a great way to spend the time you free up when you cut back on all the “going and doing.”
Make mind training a part of your self-care routine. People tend to think of self-care in terms of diet, exercise, and maybe sleep, but we often ignore what we put into our minds, what we think about and ruminate on. This is a mistake. Getting intentional about what we watch, listen to, and infuse into our consciousness is just as important — what we focus on shapes our mental state, impacts our relationships, and influences every choice we make.
Stop allowing junk food into your consciousness. We should monitor our cognitive input in the same way we regulate our intake of fats, carbs and calories. What you’re doing is intentionally creating the best version of yourself.
Think of it as a gateway to overall happiness. Neuroscience has proven over and over again that a focus on gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. When people engage in practices like meditating on gratitude (as the Gratitude series encourages) or by keeping a daily journal of what they are grateful for, they tend to feel more optimistic and positive about their lives. (That’s happiness!) What’s more, they may sleep better, exercise more, and enjoy better physical health than those who don’t focus on gratitude.
Focus on the small things. There are plenty of things you can (and should) be grateful for in life’s simple moments. A hot cup of coffee. Toasty sheets fresh from the dryer on a cold evening. A catchup phone call from a dear old friend. The smell of a delicious dinner wafting from the kitchen. The look of wonder in your toddler’s eyes when they see the first snowfall of the year. Just start paying attention and let yourself feel the wonderment.
Manage your expectations. Real life doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting and your home most likely will never look like a spread in Better Homes and Gardens. Parents get old. Kids get bad grades. Tempers flare from time to time. Even during a wonderful meal with family and friends, someone might get sick, make a judgmental comment, or burst into tears during the salad course. That’s life. It’s messy and complicated … and beautiful.
It’s hard to be grateful and focused on perfection at the same time. Keep in mind that even best-laid plans seldom go off without a hitch. Remember to savor the good moments and seek out loving feelings toward your friends and families. Find the love in every situation.
The best thing about gratitude is that it’s contagious. If you put it out there, chances are very good you will get it back! And don’t forget: others are watching you and will see how empowered you have become just by being happy.