How about a quick break? It’ll only take a minute. Pause what you’re doing and have a good stretch. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and think of five things you are grateful for today.
That was your gratitude break. Felt good, didn’t it?
Counting your blessings can help you pivot from negative to positive feelings. It can help boost your mood, build anticipation, teach you to focus, even change your biochemistry.
I’ve been listening to Valorie Burton’s podcast Successful Women Think Differently. Valorie is a life coach who helps people enrich their lives through the application of principles from positive psychology. In her own words, she helps people “get unstuck and be unstoppable in every area of life”.
I always find something positive on Valorie’s podcasts and YouTube videos, something I can take and use practically in my life. Many of her episodes are about gratitude, including taking a gratitude break like the one above.
Most people know of the positive psychology movement through well known psychologists like Martin Seligman, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (see my previous post) and Abraham Maslow. Maslow, the humanistic psychologist famous for his hierarchy of needs, is quoted to have said, “It’s as if Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.” (Weiten, 2007). Positive psychology, rather than focusing on psychopathology, highlights positive human experiences and emotions, and explores how we can thrive and lead fulfilling lives.
As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, many of us are becoming more mindful about cultivating gratitude and other positive emotions, like generosity and kindness. Gratitude journals are a great way to start the momentum. Valorie suggests that when we write down our gratitudes, we mention not only what we are grateful for, but why. Why are you grateful for your spouse, work, neighborhood park, cat, microwave, yoga mat? How do they enrich or ease your life? This kind of reflection immerses you deeper into the feeling, makes it last longer and allows you to access it easier over time.
Some folks like to set a specific time aside for a gratitude break, others like to just use it randomly throughout the day. Valorie mentions how gratitude breaks can be particularly useful when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or frustrated and need some headspace. They can stop you from spiraling into that negative rabbit hole. When you take time to appreciate simple things like a hot shower, a soft pillow, a child’s laughter, you not only feel better, you make your brain and nervous system healthier.
I’ve been incorporating gratitude breaks into my morning workout routine, which includes a gratitude for each sun salutation on the yoga mat my sister gave me. I love that yoga mat – it has just the right hardness and stiffness, it’s not the soft squishy kind. I am thankful for the unbridled enthusiasm with which our dog accepts each invitation to take a walk, for the friendly neighbors who greet me, for the changing leaves on the trees and the colorful flowers still in the yards despite the cooler temperatures. I so appreciate the Indian neighbor who gave the children organic reduced fat chocolate milk instead of candy when they went trick-or-treating earlier tonight. I am grateful that when I’ve been sitting too long, I can get up and stretch. I’m thankful each time I see a new message from my WhatsApp chat that keeps me connected to friends and family in different parts of the world.
Around a decade ago, I joined a group of friends called The Intenders of the Highest Good. We met on Monday evenings. We’d have a potluck dinner, sit in a circle and take turns to share all the things we were grateful for in the past week, and the positive things we intended for the week ahead. No dramas or traumas (even though I’m sure we’d all have had some to share). When we did share the bad stuff, we’d keep it brief and pivot to something we were grateful for even in the bad situation. Then we’d read from our book selection, sing or chant, and leave.
Another group that I loved was the Conscious Living Circle, which was based on the similar principles and had the same kind of setup. During the week, I’d find myself taking note of the things and people I appreciate in my life so I can share them in the circle. It made me more conscious about being grateful. It’s great to count our blessings alone but it’s powerful when we can connect with others in community in the spirit of giving thanks.
Weiten, W. (2007). Psychology: Themes and Variations, Seventh Edition. Thomson/Wadsworth.