LSR #8: Active Gratitude

One lesson my near six months of blogging has taught me is this:  When my palms sweat and my heartbeat quickens, I’ve probably come upon a post-worthy topic—something that will resonate with, inspire or entertain people in some way. Sharing my personal story last week was no exception. Your warm, heartbreaking and even humorous responses inspired so many chills, I wondered if I’d end up with permanent chicken skin. And you know what? I would’ve worn it with pride.

Thank you with all of my heart!

It seems only reasonable that I jump to #8 in my Lifesaving Resolutions series to what I call active, or proactive, gratitude—a technique that’s helped lift my spirits in countless frustrating situations, from bumpy patches on the road to recovery to harsh literary feedback. I hope you find it as kick-butt-awesome as I do. 😉

grat·i·tude /noun: a feeling of appreciation or thanks —Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Active gratitude involves acting upon these feelings. You know that saying, “Action speaks louder than words?” Well it’s particularly powerful in gratitude matters.

While a grateful person sees a glass as half full and an ungrateful person deems it half empty, an actively grateful person savors the beverage, thanks the preparer and goes on to share the drink with others. 

Active gratitude is also reactive.

On happy days, our blessings seem like lit up billboards in our brains: I love my life! What gorgeous weather! Yeahoo—I’m out of debt! PMS = over! Active gratitude often follows automatically. We smile, observe positivity in others and do good deeds with natural ease. Why? Because happy, grateful people tend to take better care of themselves and others.

In fact, research conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, a grateful mindset is associated with improved physical health, reduced anxiety and depression, sounder sleep and kinder behavior toward others. (Talk about awesome frosting.)

But we can’t very well activate gratitude if we don’t have any, right? Enter my favorite use of the technique:

On difficult days, we can easily turn inward, fixate on our gloom and throw a nonstop pity-party that does little but make us, and those around us, feel worse. By making the decision to cultivate gratitude and act upon it, the yuck-snowball can boomerang in the opposite direction, turning the nasty grayish ice clumps into sunny warmth. (Ahh…)

Simple Ways to Activate Gratitude:

Commit to a grateful mindset. For practical, entertaining insight on doing so, check out Kristen Lamb’s fantastic post: An Attitude of Gratitude.

Keep a gratitude journal. Simply jotting down your “I’m thankful for” list tends to cultivate grateful living. To take it many steps further, choose an item from your list to act upon each day, week or whenever the blahs set in.

Grateful for the fantastic book you’ve just read? Post a 5-star review on Amazon.com or blog about its awesomeness. Better yet, do both.

Grateful for your health? Schedule that annual physical you’ve been dismissing. Stock up on fruits and veggies. Go for a walk.

Grateful for your significant other? Sneak a love note into his or her work gear. Plan a spontaneous date. Complete a household chore they loathe doing.

Grateful for supportive blogging friends? Post thoughtful comments on their posts. Share links to their blogs via your own blog, email, Facebook and Twitter.

Stressed over finances? Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Donate “junk” from your closet to your local thrift store. Give food or spare change to a homeless person.

Crushed over a rejection letter? Write thank you letters to your loved ones or to your inner child/creativity/writing self. Read to a child or grandparent.

Feeling PMS-ey? Take a loved one who “gets it” out for coffee or, who am I kidding, ICE CREAM. 😉 Cry your eyes out while you’re at it. It’s healthy.

Hungry for more?? Check out these fabulous posts by some of my favorite bloggers:

Julie Hedlund’s tribute to her daughter: Gratitude Sunday 68
Tameri Etherton’s creative pursuit of honing a grateful attitude: New Year’s Resolutions
Piper Bayard’s commemoration of heros from 9/11: We Drank Champagne and Remembered

***My own gratitude inspired the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest, which is coming up February 9th and 10th. If you’d like to participate as a blogger or prize donor, click here.

What are you particularly grateful for this week? How do you plan to express it? Any fab suggestions to add? I love hearing from you.

Grumpy to Gracious

Q: What do you call a grumpy cow?

A: Moo-dy

Like many artists, I do my best to embrace all emotions. Yesterday, it was not so easy…

I woke up feeling gruuumpy. If I could have, I would’ve crawled into Oscar’s trash pad with Slimy and hidden away for a while. (At the time it seemed like only a cute little orange worm with miniature belongings could cheer me up.) But I couldn’t. I had to drive through heavy rain and traffic, between drivers who seemed to have lost their driving capabilities with the sun, to teach a class—rather than laze around or write to the cozy backdrop—where my grumpiness could not…or, at least should not, show. Blech.

To make matters worse, I felt guilty for feeling so darn grumpy. What right did I have? I have super-nifty people in my life. I love my work. I’m healthy. I have food, shelter, safety…the list goes on. But ARGH!!! I still felt grumpy.

As I pulled into park, hyper-analyzing my emotions as we introspective-folks tend to do ;), the study I sited in my last post popped into my head. It showed that keeping a gratitude journal can increase a person’s happiness by 25 percent. That would bring me to about…moderate grumpiness; only one foot in Oscar’s can. I had time, so figured what the heck? 

What happened next astonished me. I filled a page with big, scrawly words and phrases. My new niece, my bull dog, a sweet text message I’d received… And I swear, the fog lifted. (Metaphorically speaking.) I wasn’t happy-slappy ready-to-dance, mind you, but the tenseness in my shoulders eased up. The near-tears in my eyes dissipated. And a subtle warmth spread through my body, ensuring me that “everything’s gonna be okay.”

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

Respecting, feeling and exploring our emotions is key to creative growth and expression. (And yes, we “deserve” a whole range.) One way to manage negative feelings involves putting them in perspective. In order to attract more goodness into our lives, we should really learn to appreciate and accept what we have and where we’re at.

Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. (I highly suggest one specifically for your car. ;)) If you don’t have a journal nearby in times of need, use the back of a receipt, a napkin—any write-friendly surface.
  • Say “thank you” often and mean it.
  • Do something kind for someone you’re grateful for, without their awareness of who did it.
  • Write and send thank you letters, emails and text messages regularly…or at least once per month. Studies have linked routine, hand-written thank you letters with long-lasting mood enhancements for the writers.
  • Have your family or a group of friends share what they’re grateful for at gatherings—and not just Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Support fellow writers’ and readers’ books, blogs and other projects by posting sincere comments, passing the word on or promoting them on your website.
  • Volunteer for Meals on Wheels, a soup kitchen or other organizations. (This is a great way to spend holidays.)
  • Make a “I’m grateful for…” list specific to a loved one. Send it to them with flowers, homemade cookies or a thoughtful card. Sing it to them if you wish. (If you’re not a great singer, it’ll be ultra-precious.)
  • Write a story or poem about an experience or person you’re grateful for.

The biggest benefits of gratitude come from regular practice, according to Robert Emmons—a leading gratitude researcher at the University of California at Davis. So make it a habit. The more we express gratitude, the happier we’ll feel, the more light we’ll bring to others and the less likely we’ll be to draw comparisons between ourselves and oh, say, grouchy Sesame St. characters… 😉

How do you express gratitude? What are you particularly grateful for today?