One of the wonders I discovered on my pathway to recovery from burnout was adopting a purposeful gratitude practice. Gratitude has been shown to safeguard against stress, and improve physical and mental health, social functioning and interpersonal relationships. It has been shown to reduce antisocial behaviour and to support resilience across the life course. It can support ‘individuals find greater meaning and coherence in life so that they can improve themselves and elevate others.’[i]
Similar to when you work out and build muscle, when you adopt a routine gratitude practice, you further grow your focus on the positive.
Have you ever noticed how, when you’re single, all you see is loved-up couples everywhere?Or perhaps you chat with a friend about buying a new red car and then you find yourself noticing red cars everywhere you look. These examples reflect the function of a neat mechanism in your brain, the reticular activating system, or RAS. There is no way we could process all of the information that enters our brain each moment through our senses. Your RAS acts like a filter and primes your brain to notice things that matter to you.[ii]
Once you start focusing on what you’re grateful for, this same system brings to your consciousness a greater awareness of more to be grateful for. You’ll catch yourself noticing and appreciating things in the moment – things that may have previously passed you by.
Practising gratitude can be as simple as integrating a reflection practice into your routine, perhaps when you first wake in the morning and/or when you go to bed at night.
When I started this practice, I was not at all well, and some days were an incredible challenge to get through. I would sit down with a notebook at the end of the day, and I would write down three things that I was grateful for and one thing from the past twenty-four hours that had made me happy. Some days, it was, ‘I’m breathing’ or, ‘I have a roof over my head’ – the basics. Other days, it was simple moments of peace and joy, achievements and even breakthroughs. But no matter what I reflected upon and wrote, my gratitude practice was always helpful. A reminder that I was okay. A much-needed dose of perspective. An opportunity to take a breath and feel thankful, no matter what.
Creating a simple gratitude practice
Start by choosing whether you want to do this in the morning or evening. Then put a pen and notebook somewhere that you will notice it. Perhaps on your bedside table for before you go to bed at night – or next to your kettle for while you are waiting for it to boil when making your morning cuppa. Now, think about the past twenty-four hours and note down three things you are grateful for. Reflect on what you have written for a moment or two, take a deep breath, and enjoy the feeling of gratitude.
I hope that you give a gratitude practice a try and that it lifts your spirits and helps you shift your focus to notice more of what makes you happy. The beauty around you. Small moments of happiness and love. And most of all, I hope this helps to sustain you as you navigate your way through the challenges of your purpose-driven work and your life.
I am grateful to you for reading this article. Thank you.
[i] Bono G, Sender JT. (2018). How gratitude connects humans to the best in themselves and in others. Research in Human Development, 15:224-237.
[ii] Garcia-Rill E. (Ed.). (2015). Waking and the reticular activating system in health and disease. Elsevier Inc. United States.