‘Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back
and realize they were the big things’
I encountered a very wise man a little while ago.
I was giving a talk for a holistic group. The venue was the upstairs room of a social club.
‘What’s your talk about?‘ the stranger asked as I passed through the downstairs bar.
‘Lifting depression’ I responded.
‘Well, if you want the cure for depression’, he said, ‘pass on one tip from me.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked
‘Be grateful’, he said with a smile, and went back to his pint and newspaper.
Gratitude and happiness
Many have come to believe that true happiness comes from the acquisition of things; more money, a bigger house, the smartest car. These can help but, the deeper truth is that the choice to be happy comes from within.
And there is little doubt that expressing gratitude makes you happier.
One of the quickest ways to enhance your mood and harness motivational energy is to adopt an ‘attitude of gratitude’. People who regularly practice gratitude exercises are reported to have more energy, increased emotional intelligence, less depression and anxiety, better sleep and greater sense of connection.
There are many ways to practice.
The one I often recommend to clients involves ‘end of day gratitude’. While you fall asleep, there is no better reflective exercise than to consider those positive things from the day for which you are grateful, whether they are goals you’ve achieved, places you’ve been, people you’ve encountered or even sites, sounds or fragrances you have savoured and enjoyed. It effectively helps you rewire your brain to search for the positives. It is certainly a powerful antidote to the negative lens which can underpin depression.
If we accept that gratitude makes you happier, there’s no better time to practice it than at the end of the year, when we might helpfully focus on those things we have come to understand promote our emotional well-being; those outlined in my own SAFE SPACE recipe.
SAFE SPACE evolved from Maslow’s hierarchy and others.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943)
- Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
- Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
- Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
- Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others.
- Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
Many recipes and formulae have been postulated. It’s an interesting exercise to consider the links between some of those and how they influence our collective philosophy about human flourishing.
Martin Seligman (PERMA)
P – Positive emotions
E – Engagement
R – Relationships
M – Meaning
A – Accomplishment
John A. Schindler (Six Basic Needs)
- Creative Expression
- New Experiences
- Fun family and friends
- Emotional intimacy
A recent book ‘Happiness by Design’ by Professor Paul Dolan suggests, the key to happiness is achieving the correct balance between a life driven by pleasure and purpose. Perhaps it is that simple.
While we ponder the wider philosophical implications, here is a very practical gratitude exercise we can all practice and enjoy the positive benefits of simply focusing on, acknowledging and expressing our gratitude for those good things in life we all experience but don’t always actively notice.
An end of year gratitude exercise
Statement of gratitude: I am grateful for my safety and the safety of those around me. I am grateful for my safe house, my neighbourhood, my country. I am grateful to my body and mind for keeping me safe. I am grateful that right here, right now, I am okay and I am safe.
- List your safe spaces. Home, work etc……………..
Statement of gratitude: I am grateful for the ability to give and receive attention with family, friends, colleagues, neighbours. I am grateful for those conversations, those spontaneous smiles and those moments of fun. I am acknowledged. I am seen. I am grateful to be present in this world.
- List enjoyable times from the past year…….
Statement of gratitude: I am grateful for those moments of emotionally intimacy with those closest to me who I can relax and be myself with and feel accepted for who I really am.
- List those who you feel closest to and those people you appreciate having in your life……….
Statement of gratitude: I am grateful for those things I have achieved and for the status and respect I have from those who appreciate my efforts.
- List the achievements you are most proud of and most grateful for from last year…………
Statement of gratitude: I am grateful for privacy, those quiet moments of reflection and the ability to stop and step back from the world from time to time, to be mindful of my thoughts, feelings, actions and my environment.
- List those private places, thoughts or reflections that come to mind……………………………..
Statement of gratitude: I am grateful for my personal autonomy and control. I am in the driver’s seat of my life. I have a sense of direction and can steer my life in the direction I want it to go.
- Acknowledge those times from last year when you have been proactive and assertive, exercised your autonomy and moved towards your goals
Statement of gratitude: Finally, I am grateful for my place in this world, feeling connected to this world and feeling engaged with life and for those moments of flow when I am truly absorbed in the moment. I am grateful for those inner resources that keep me resilient.
- List your personal resources such as tenacity, sense of humour etc………….