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Why practising gratitude is good for you

At the start of 2020, I found a jar, a notepad and pen and started a gratitude jar. I’d read about them somewhere and decided to give it a go. Every day I’d write about something – big or small – that I was grateful for. Some days I wrote more than one thing. Then as 2020 rolled along, I wrote less and less. My last entry was just before we came out of hard lockdown in late October. The jar was pushed to the back of the cupboard and I forgot about it.

Until today. I’ve just re-read my notes, and they made me smile. They included things like:

  • Yay! Played with Helen’s tiny new kittens! Kittens!!!🐈🐈🐈
  • Had a wonderful lazy, sunny, Sunday arvo reading by the river with Duncan.
  • The bus driver waited for me!
  • The hairdresser is open again. Thank the lords – I look like Cousin It!

There were lots of others, and as I read them, I was caught up in the moments. And I wondered why I’d let this practice go?

Stupid pandemic, that’s why. The impact it had on my physical and mental health, the lockdowns, the on-again off-again masks, concern for loved ones, too many quarintinis – it all took over my life. Well, to be honest, I let it. I focused on the negatives, so the positives were harder to find.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us often focus on the negative, especially when we’re in pain, frightened, worried about the future, or just because it’s Thursday (I never could get the hang of Thursdays).

But if we open ourselves up to the positives in life and become more grateful, we’ll feel happier, more fulfilled, and we may even improve our physical health.

9 ways to become more grateful

There are lots of ways you can become more grateful. We’ve selected a few to help you get started. Then it’s a case of – practise, practise, practise. Because as with any new skill or routine, practise makes perfect.

1. Write it down

Gratitude journaling is one of the most common ways you can practise being grateful. It helps you actively focus on the positive things in your life. All you need to do is choose a method that works for you. For example, write about what you’re grateful for on a piece of paper and pop it in a jar each day, write in your diary, post about it on your socials, or use an app. The physical act of writing it down makes you think about what it is you’re grateful for, reflect on how it made you feel and experience that feeling again.

2. Pay attention and be thankful for the people around you

The pandemic has opened our eyes to how meaningful our connections are. It’s been a wake-up call to savour the moments we have with the people that make up our world, especially those closest to us. So take time to really listen to them. Stop flicking through your phone, turn away from the TV, look up from the pile of laundry you’re folding and listen to your partner/kids/parents/friends. And be thankful that they’re in your life.

3. Be mindful of the things around you

We often rush about with our heads down, not taking note of our surroundings. But there’s so much beauty and wonder for us to enjoy and be grateful for. So next time you head outdoors, keep your phone in your pocket and look around you. Listen to the birds in the trees, notice how the trees sway in the wind, enjoy the dogs playing in the park, be in awe of the mountains or the sea. Take the time to pay attention, and you’ll feel the boost to your mood and a skip in your step in no time.

4. When you wake up or before you go to sleep…

Think of something or someone that you’re grateful for. Or focus on something that happened during the day that made you smile or lifted your spirits.

5. Thank someone…

In person, with a letter, call or DM them. Let them know about something they did that made you happy or really helped you out. Or just to thank them for being in your life. You’ll both feel happier for it 😊. It’s nice to know you’re appreciated and loved.

6. Surround yourself with gratitude cues

You’re probably doing this instinctively anyway. These are the photos, affirmations, quotes and jokes that make you happy, inspire you, remind you of beautiful people and times, and fill you with joy. No surface should be safe from gratitude cues – fridges, bookcases, walls, mirrors, windows, desktops, phones – they’re all fair game. So fill them up! And change them around – remove old ones, add new ones. That way you’ll have a constant array of things that make you grateful, and they won’t start blending into the background.

7. Meditate

It’s a great way to relax and gain some balance in a topsy-turvy world. But it’s also some ‘you time’, when you can take a few moments to shut out the world, breathe deeply and evenly, and focus your mind on positive thoughts.

8. On the job

We all have times when we feel a bit blah and uninspired about work. If that sounds familiar, try this: at the start of each workday, think of one thing about your job that you’re grateful for. It might be the quiz you do at lunchtime with your workmates, or the opportunity to learn new skills and stretch yourself, or the friendships you’ve developed with interesting people. Big or small – think of one thing each day that makes you feel grateful about your job.

9. Wander down memory lane

Check out your memories on socials, crack open your old photo albums or just allow your mind to drift back to past, happy times. There’s a lot of joy in our lives that we forget about when we only think of our current state or upcoming events. Or when we only focus on our anxieties or negative things. We’ve lived through some amazing times and met lots of lovely people. That’s something we can all be grateful for, and our memories and photos can help us relive them. And if you see the faces of those no longer with us, you may feel sad, but you can also feel grateful that you met that wonderful person and had them in your life. And that’s a blessing.

Before you get started

It’s important that you don’t get on the gratitude bandwagon to the detriment of your other feelings. Being grateful doesn’t mean that you can’t experience worry, sadness, anxiety or anger. You can be grateful and still experience a range of other emotions. These feelings are valid too, and we need to feel them. As with most things, it’s all about getting the balance right.

Try not to compare yourselves with others. It’s never a healthy thing to do. We all have our set of unique challenges and opportunities, so comparisons just don’t work.

You can be grateful for what you have, even if there are others in the world who you perceive to ‘have it worse’ than you do. If you feel that way, think about what you can do to enrich the lives of others. Do volunteer work, donate to charity, become a mentor; you can give back to the community in so many ways.

Or if you perceive that others ‘have it easier’ than you do, feel grateful for what you do have and the people and things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Focusing on the negative won’t bring you happiness, and won’t magically bestow on you the perceived riches that someone else has, so dump the comparisons and focus on your life.

And finally

We asked some of our consumers and staff what they’re grateful for. Here are some of the responses we received.

I’m grateful:

  • that I live near some beautiful running and walking tracks
  • that I can enjoy the outdoors, the scenery and the sunsets
  • for having the basics – a roof over my head, good food and warm bed on a cold night
  • for strawberry Freddo frogs…and pizza night 🍕
  • that my workplace supports me to work flexibly and put my condition first
  • for my sister sending me lots of pictures and videos of my niece and nephew who live overseas
  • for my partner, without whom I don’t know where I’d be
  • for my son, who is hard work but makes me laugh every day
  • that I can still do the job I love despite restrictions due to arthritis and age
  • that my desk overlooks a tree that’s covered in rainbow lorikeets most afternoons
  • that I have two fluffy indoor cats who deign to let me pat them from time to time.

What are you grateful for?

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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