Category Archives: Gratitude

How to give yourself a lift by saying thank you

Sending someone an unexpected thank you card is a great way to give you both a boost.

I’d like to thank my manager, my agent, my parents, my next-door neighbours, the man who sells me a newspaper in the morning.

We’re all familiar with the Academy Award winners’ speeches, during which it’s evidently de rigueur to publicly express your undying gratitude to everyone you’ve ever rubbed shoulders with.

Nice for those thanked, I’m sure, but maybe a bit meaningless to everyone else?

Underneath it all, however, saying thank you is a fantastic thing to do for all concerned.

It’s wonderful to be thanked, of course. But there’s much to be gained by the thanker, too.

A while ago I bought myself a dozen ‘no message’ greetings cards which I carried around wherever I went.

Then whenever I had a few spare minutes, I wrote a few words of thanks to someone who’d made a difference to me on one of them and popped it in the post.

It was fun (and easy) to do, and the cards seemed to go down well with their recipients.

So why not give it a try yourself?

They don’t all have to be Big thank you’s either. I’m sure the man who sells you a newspaper in the morning will be tickled pink to get one.

Being grateful for what’s already in your life

The late Nelson Mandela spent more than a quarter of his life in prison, so perhaps it was unsurprising that he gathered a remarkably large amount of personal property while he was incarcerated.

In fact, according to a hand-written inventory made when he was finally released in February 1990, 22 boxes went out with him, plus an exercise bike, a surfboard and a white cardboard hat.

Now I expect like you, I can bring a lot of visual images of Nelson Mandela to mind, but I have to confess that him on a surfboard isn’t really one of them.

I’ve always been interested in lists of possessions. As a bit of a hoarder (sorry Alex) I’m in awe of those who manage to trim their belongings down to the bone. In fact there’s a whole movement of minimalist people online who’ve reduced the number of items they own to 100 or even less.

Actually I’m pretty sure I’ve got more than that on my desk at the moment.

Perhaps it would take you a long time to list everything you own. I know it would me. But my point right now is that if you did so, surely the emphasis would be on what you do own, rather than what you don’t. I hope the latter list would be longer than the former, although I’d hate to see your credit card statement if it wasn’t.

But I wonder if we sometimes take exactly the opposite approach when it comes to evaluating our emotional life? I know that when I’ve suffered from my own low periods I’ve been more inclined to think about what was missing from my life rather than what was already present.

And this chimes rather nicely with the idea that being grateful for what you’ve got can make a significant impact on your level of happiness: the time-worn principle of counting your blessings.

Here are three ways you can put this to work:

1. Think of three things you’re grateful for every night before you go to sleep.

2. Keep a gratitude journal, making an entry in it each time you’re thankful for something.

3. Practice the act of saying ‘thank you’ more often, especially when you’re specific about what you’re grateful for.

It’s all too easy to spend your days being disappointed about what your life is missing.

But isn’t there so much more value to be had from being thankful for what’s already there?

Remember people you’re grateful for

Gosh, I really don’t know how to tell you this. You’d better brace yourself for bad news. It’s all about Academy Awards, you see. That’s right, the Oscars.

The thing is, and I’m deeply sorry to be the bearer of sad tidings, the chances of you (yes, you) winning an Oscar are cigarette-paperly slim. Ignoring the rather obvious fact that you’d first need to be an actor or movie production person of considerable renown (and, well, maybe you’re not), the population of the world divided by the number of awards given in an average lifetime suggests that the odds of you getting your moment at the podium are around one in seven million. That’s around the same odds of a couple having naturally conceived quadruplets.

Not too likely, I’d wager, and very unfair, but then life is all too often like this.

However, just because you probably won’t find yourself on a stage in Hollywood, shouldn’t stop you wondering about what you might say in your acceptance speech. Some stars have gone for the unconventional approach, such as Marlon Brando choosing to send a Native American woman in his place, but most take the time-honoured ‘I’d like to thank…’ approach, running through a list of people who helped make that particular person a success.

Here’s the thing, though. My guess is that we all have people for whom we can be grateful. We all have people we’re lucky to have in our lives. I know I do, and I’m sure you do too.

And since it’s always easier to fret about people who’ve treated you badly than it is to recognise those who’ve supported, boosted or encouraged you, there’s a lot to be said for running an imaginary video of your Oscar thank-you speech in your mind; especially just as you’re dropping off to sleep for the night.

But don’t just stop at the person’s name. In addition, why not try to come up with a few specific reasons for your gratitude? You’re grateful for them, but how and why?

When you go to bed thinking positive thoughts such as these, you’re not only likely to wake up in a better frame of mind, but it’s also often the case that you’ll to get a better night’s sleep.

Possibly even a few dreams of winning best supporting actor.

Keep a record of positive stuff

I’d have thought it would have been a higher figure actually, but surveys suggest that around two-thirds of Americans believe the media focuses too heavily on bad news rather than good.

The trouble is, and it’s confirmed by journalist friends, bad news sells. Whether it’s on TV, in a newspaper, or online, the sad fact is that nearly all of us expect news coverage to be of negative, worrying and troubling events.

Not really the kind of stuff designed to lift your mood is it?

And speaking of moods, when you or I are in a low one, it’s as if there’s a shouty newspaper editor inside our head yelling at us to PRINT MORE BAD STORIES. When you’re feeling a bit fragile you may tend to see the world through a blue filter, meaning that you focus on what’s gone wrong and what’s not fair rather than celebrating what’s gone right and counting your blessings, even if they’re just modest ones.

Of course, this relentless churning of negative thoughts simply makes things worse, or at least makes them no better.

So how do we escape from this cesspit? Is escape even possible?

You know, I think it is, although like all these things it’s going to take a bit of effort.

You see, even the shabbiest of days generally aren’t rotten to the core. Think back through them and you’ll almost certainly be able to identify one or perhaps two better bits, even if they’re something as low-key as your bus having arrived on time, or that you found a seat when you boarded it.

Recalling positive events is a good start, and there’s certainly sense in doing so every night before you go to sleep: if you can, try and recall three things to be grateful for. There’s even more value, though, in committing them to paper, and keeping a positive events diary can make a big difference to low mood. There’s no need to write lots, just a brief note of anything good that’s happened can work wonders.

This can be especially encouraging when you’ve done it for a while and can look back to see that – well – the past wasn’t actually completely gloomy.

Why not acquire a good news habit? It’s no bad thing.