We frequently struggle with stress because we lose perspective. We fixate on how life fails to meet our expectations. We either worry about what could go wrong or ruminate on previous failures. As a result, we become trapped in a web of anxiety and forget to appreciate the blessings in our life.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion that allows us to combat stress. It allows us to feel better about our lives as a whole (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). It is the expression of being thankful for the blessings in our life.
When we are overcome by anxiety, we look at life primarily from a negative lens. We fixate on the worst possible outcome from a particular situation and ignore other potential outcomes.
For example, many people experience anxiety on Sunday night as they anticipate going to work the next morning. They anticipate a hectic Monday filled with stress due to multiple work demands and interacting with challenging personalities at work. The anticipatory anxiety may keep them up all night, tense and restless. Such a spike in anxiety is counterproductive as they may start their Monday morning tired due to a lack of adequate sleep.
Gratitude does not dismiss the notion that life is filled with challenges. However, it allows for a more balanced and integrated view on life. It provides us with a healthy dose of perspective.
Rather than dread going to work the next day, gratitude provides us with a dose of appreciation. It substitutes an apprehensive mindset with an appreciation mindset. A grateful mind thinks “What a blessing that I get to work tomorrow.” A grateful mind is aware that work is filled with stress and challenges. However, it is also aware that it is a blessing to have a job, be healthy enough to work and provide for loved ones.
If you are not sure whether something or someone is a blessing in your life, then pretend that thing or person are about to be taken from you. Pretend you are about to be released from your hectic job. Imagine that you have only a few hours left to spend with your stressful kids. How would you feel about the impending voids in your life? You would no longer complain about how stressful your job or kids are. Rather, you would protest the impeding losses and hold onto them tightly with an iron grip.
This exercise shows us how anxiety and gratitude look at life from different points of view. Anxiety is the equivalent of being surrounded by trees in a forest and fixating on how the branches are crooked. Gratitude is the equivalent of taking a panoramic view of the forest and appreciating its majestic beauty.
Developing a perspective of gratitude does not happen overnight. It takes consistent work. Below are three habits to develop a gratitude mindset.
- Practice Gratitude every day
Start every morning and finish every night by practicing 5 minutes of gratitude. Please make sure you are free of any distractions. This might mean that you may have to wake up before everyone else in your household or be the last one to go to bed.
With your eyes closed focus on three blessings in your life. Visualize them in high definition and feel your appreciation for them. Such blessings may include people you love dearly such as your children, spouse, your parents or a close friend. Additional blessings may include your health, a steady job, a comfortable home or the gift of living.
- Serve those in need.
We frequently fixate on our problems and lose perspective. We think that the grass is greener on the other side and forget that there are human beings who have it far worse than us. They may not know when they will eat again or where they will spend the night. Service keeps us humble and grateful while making a positive impact in the lives of those less fortunate.
- Be mindful on social media.
The proliferation of social media has come with many benefits. For example, it is easier to maintain connection with loved ones regardless of location. I also appreciate the reminders of upcoming birthdays and events.
On the other hand, social media comes with dangers. It stimulates our tendency to compare our life to those around us. In general, people tend to project their life on social media from an ideal lens. They present the perfect image of their kids without showing the 50 failed attempts to keep their kids still for that image. They may present their latest car purchase or house remodel without revealing the subsequent financial debt. When you are on social media, you compare your actual life to someone’s projection of their ideal life. Such a comparison is unfair and puts you at risk of losing perspective by thinking that the grass is greener on the other side.
If you want to use social media, be mindful of how people may project themselves on this platform. This will protect you from relinquishing the gratitude mindset.