Creating a gratitude practice is one of the foundations of true success.
Let me tell you, I know. I used to spend my emotional, mental and physical energy pursuing what I didn’t have. And how can you have true success when your focus is on what you don’t yet have? In my mind, true success includes a sense of “I’m OK, and my world is OK.”
I won’t say my focus on further achievement was all-consuming, but when I left that mental prison behind (yes, I now see that way of thinking as a prison) it was amazing to me how much energy was freed up within me. Let me give you a little backdrop.
Are you involved in the relentless pursuit of what’s next?
For years I pursued the next “big” thing. For me, the motto was truly, “go big or go home.” I went after the most elite trainings and certifications, worked hard to establish the best approaches for my clients, and burned the midnight oil creating the largest hypnosis practice within a five-state region with a group practice of multiple hypnotherapists reporting to me, and a school of hypnotherapy to match, with ever-increasing hours of training in our certification program. I acknowledge that certainly some of this activity benefitted not just me, but my clients, the hypnotherapists whom I employed, and the students of our school who benefitted from a top-notch program. The problem wasn’t what I accomplished; it was the empty pit within me that was supposed to be filled by all those accomplishments, but never was.
Maybe you can relate? The drive to have which then only creates more of a feeling of lack and further drive to have has been called “The American Paradox” because in America it seems that no matter how much we have, we are never satisfied. While that has certainly been the fuel for incredible growth and is unarguably part of the American psychological landscape, believe me when I tell you it is exhausting and, for me, led to what is called “entrepreneurial burnout.”Learn how to create a gratitude practice of your own.
Gratitude created an existential crisis?
It was more than that, though. It was really an existential crisis for me. There came a pinpoint in time where I had to come face to face with everything I had assumed about myself, my values, and the meaning of life and see it turn on its head. While you might think that this was uncomfortable at best and psychologically unsettling at worst, it turned out to be a moment of clarity and peace, and that moment (which did not end) was brought about by my creation of a gratitude practice. Yes, I acknowledge that change is a cycle and part of that cycle happens in an other-than-conscious place in the mind, so I had no doubt been in a “pre-contemplation” and possibly some level of a “contemplation” phase for quite some time, probably months, before this seemingly almost instantaneous change occurred. What I am saying is that the gratitude meditation that I began practicing shook something loose-it was the catalyst for a full-blown sea change in my mind.
What are the seas in my mind like now? Much calmer waters. I am much more present and appreciative of every aspect of my life. On the surface, to an outsider, things may look much the same. I still have the same practice, the same school; the same house, the same family, the same responsibilities. It’s my emotional and mental approach to all these things that has changed. My energy feels 1000% more expansive. I no longer have a mental struggle about doing certain things, or dedicating time to this or that. I feel free. Free to simply move through this world in a state of enjoyment, if not always joy, in recognition that there are things to be grateful for along the journey.
I’m no longer focusing on the destination and postponing my joy of living for some statistic to be checked off or an accomplishment to be completed. Will this slow me down or dampen my drive? If it does, and it means that I enjoy this life moment by moment and am a better mother, wife, friend and colleague because of it, then so be it. I’m no longer concerned with what gets accomplished; I would rather focus on creating and loving the life that nourishes me. I know myself well enough that I know that doesn’t mean that I’ll let it all go to pot or let other people down; it’s just that the constant feeling of “never enough” has faded away. In its place is a sense of peace and contentment.
What is it about gratitude that can create such momentous change?
There have been many studies done on the benefits of gratitude on physical, psychological, and emotional health, which have pointed to immediate and ongoing benefits of gratitude. If you have yet to begin your own gratitude practice, take a look at the findings below and perhaps check out my tele seminar on gratitude, with some instructions on creating a gratitude practice of your own.
1. Gratitude will make you healthier. Grateful people have fewer aches and pains and they say they feel healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Grateful people are also more likely to attend to their own health and take good care of themselves by exercising, getting regular check-ups. Probably because they enjoy their lives and want to protect themselves, and also because, if they’re experience is like mine, the practice of gratitude and being content in their lives leaves them with more energy for such things.
2. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude actually has the effect of reducing toxic emotions like envy and resentment and frustration. It’s like an alka-seltzer for your emotions! Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. is a leading researcher on the benefits of gratitude and has conducted several studies on the effects of gratitude upon well-being. His research has shown that gratitude actually increases happiness and reduces depression (which totally corresponds to my own experience).
3. Grateful people sleep better. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being discovered that writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer. And poor sleep is tied to a whole host of physical and emotional states, from anxiety and depression to obesity and heart disease, so getting better sleep goes a long way toward improving the quality of your life (and giving you even more to be grateful for).
4. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased the self-esteem of athletes, which is critical for optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces the tendency to compare yourself to others, socially, which means that instead of focusing on what others have that you don’t, grateful people are able to genuinely feel good for other people and their accomplishments, without having that take anything away from them. Negatively comparing yourself to others is a major factor in poor self esteem, so this finding is huge. I never really felt that I was the kind of person who negatively compared myself to others. I just felt that I could (and “should”) always push myself to achieve more. But now, I feel at peace and content with what I have achieved and can genuinely appreciate that. I guess I was negatively comparing my present self to an imagined “future self.” And that pulled just as much of my energy as if I was comparing myself to others. I think that this makes a convincing parallel, enough for me to say that I can see where this finding rings true.
5. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown that gratitude reduces stress and that it may play a major role in increasing mental resilience. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of PTSD. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major factor in increased mental resilience after 9/11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience, and resilience is one of the psychological factors identified as being critical to success and happiness.
The American Psychology Association defines resilience as: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences…Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.” In fact, increasing personal resilience is one of the primary areas of focus in my hypnotherapy practice with clients, as it is such a fundamental factor in creating overall emotional health and happiness. I even wrote a book of a series of scripts focused on building up resilience in clients titled, Creating Resilience.
Gratitude appears to be foundational to our well-being.
Gratitude, with its powerful connections to increased self-esteem, enhanced resilience and even improved physical health, seems to be one of the cornerstones of well-being. I encourage you to create a gratitude practice of your own. Listen to my tele seminar on gratitude and on that page are some tips for creating a gratitude practice. Commit to that practice for 30 days and see what happens in your life, and please, come back here and comment and let me know!