Life can be hard, and life can be beautiful. Both of these things are true. Many proponents of positive thinking suggest denying the first reality and immediately replacing a negative thought with a more uplifting one. As well intentioned as this advice may be, this isn’t an effective way to create a deep, lasting sense of peace. Denying your feelings doesn’t make them go away. Many times, it only exacerbates them. A healthier approach may be to let those difficult feelings be — acknowledge them, make space for them, honor them — and also take time to nurture more positive feelings. It’s not if/or; it’s both. The beauty of this approach is that accepting life’s hardships lessens their grip on us. It’s like one of those Chinese finger traps; as soon as you stop fighting it, you’re free.
How can we nurture more positive feelings on a daily basis? The quickest route I know is through gratitude. No matter what our circumstances, we can all find things to appreciate in our life. It might be something small, like having a good meal or getting a seat on a crowded bus. Or it could be something of greater magnitude — that you get to come home to a family that loves you or that you’re working a job that you find fun and meaningful, that allows you to support yourself. Regardless of what you choose to acknowledge and appreciate, you’ll experience the same benefits. Of course, it’s easier to recognize our blessings when things are going well, but we often need gratitude the most when we feel least able to access it.
In 2012, someone broke into my apartment and stole everything of significant value, just a few weeks after I’d drained my savings to pay my taxes and finance a major surgery. At the time, my boyfriend was on a trip I was supposed to go on but hadn’t, due to my difficult recovery. At first, I felt incredibly violated and overwhelmed by a mix of emotions. In time, though, I recognized I had a lot to appreciate, in spite of this painful string of events: One, I’d had the money to cover my taxes and my surgery, even if I didn’t have much left after that. Two, I had kind neighbors who’d helped me — people who called the police for me and wrote a checklist of things I needed to do the next day. Three, I still had my old laptop, with my all my files backed up, so I wouldn’t miss a beat with my work on TinyBuddha.com (and I had a powerful story to share on the blog!). Four, I had renter’s insurance, so I could replace the stolen items. And lastly, I hadn’t been home when the robbers raided my apartment. Unlike my stuff, I was not replaceable. And though I still felt violated, with these realizations, I also felt a growing sense of relief.
I haven’t always been quick to recognize the blessings in difficult situations, and I’ve often focused more on what’s going wrong than what’s going right. This tendency did little to help me when I was struggling with major depression as an adolescent and young adult. But through years of practice I have become far more cognizant of everything worth appreciating — and I am happier, more optimistic and resilient, and better for the people around me as a result.
That’s the power of gratitude: When you make a conscious effort to appreciate all the good around you, and sometimes, the silver lining of the not so good, your life — and your brain — will slowly transform. Yes, your brain. Preliminary studies have shown that regularly practicing gratitude actually primes our brains to experience it more often, almost like a muscle getting stronger with use. This means we are more apt to continue experiencing the many other positive benefits. If practiced regularly, gratitude can help us do the following:
• Increase our happiness, self-esteem, and overall well-being
• Nurture hope, optimism, and resilience
• Reduce envy, stress, anxiety, insecurity, and other draining emotions
• Intensify feelings of love, connection, and empathy and, consequently, strengthen our relationships
• Boost our energy and our immune systems
• Improve the quality of our sleep
• Ultimately, increase our life-span, since all of the aforementioned benefits strengthen us physically and psychologically
Gratitude is a free, easily accessible way to feel better about yourself, your relationships, and your life. You can practice it anywhere, at any time; and with only a few moments out of your day, it can completely transform your experience of the world. One of the simplest ways I’ve found to do this is through daily gratitude journaling — jotting down a few things, no matter how big or small, that you appreciated throughout your day or about your life in general. This journal will enable you to do that, but with some creative direction.
Each page starts with either a question or prompt designed to help you reflect deeply on that particular area of your life and nurture positive thoughts, feelings, and memories. Throughout the book, you’ll also find fifteen coloring pages depicting images of things worth appreciating that we may sometimes take for granted. Each coloring page includes space to reflect on what you most appreciate about that scene or item. So in addition to the benefits of practicing gratitude, you’ll also enjoy the mental rewards of coloring — increased mindfulness, decreased stress and anxiety, enhanced focus, and the pleasant return to the joy of a simpler time.
For maximum effectiveness, it’s best to use this journal daily so that you get into a habit of noticing and recording what you appreciate, but you don’t need to work through each page chronologically. You can jump forward, color at any time, or choose to ignore or alter the prompts and questions if they don’t feel relevant to you. Make this book your own, and use it however feels fun and right for you.
This book is your refuge from the inevitable hardships in life. It’s a place to celebrate what’s beautiful, interesting, inspiring, and good in your world. You might not see this goodness easily at first, but over time, as you keep picking up your pen or markers, you’ll start recognizing a whole lot more of it — and armed with a new sense of calm, confidence, and connectedness, you’ll start creating a whole lot more of it, too.
What’s the best thing that has happened to you today so far, and what did you most appreciate about it?
Look around your current environment. What are three things you appreciate about where you are right now? What’s beautiful, calming, stimulating, or otherwise worth appreciating?
From TINY BUDDHA’S GRATITUDE JOURNAL: Questions, Prompts, and Coloring Pages for a Brighter, Happier Life. Copyright © 2017 by Lori Deschene. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers.
Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha, an online community that enables participants to share their experiences and insights to help themselves and others. Since she launched Tiny Buddha in the fall of 2009, Lori has helped over 1,600 contributors share their stories with more than 3 million monthly readers. Lori is the author of Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges, Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions, and Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, and is also co-founder of the popular online course Recreate Your Life Story. Though she grew up in Massachusetts and spends much of her time in California, Lori now considers herself a citizen of the world, and explores it regularly with her long-time boyfriend, Ehren.
Originally published at medium.com