Gratitude: irritating New Age jargon or something useful… that is the question.

This is just part of an excerpt from our book, The Scandal of Sexit, as gratitude has been on our minds a lot as we hear and read the news and it all seems so dark and dismal frightening and disturbing, and culminating in not only wars, gas prices, and now shortages of tomatoes and veg…. that we felt we had to remember and be connected with, what is going on in our lives that we are grateful for, and so get a balance. 

So what does ‘being grateful’ actually mean? It’s a phrase that is thrown around so easily and yes, we know it sounds clichéd… so ‘New Age’… but happiness really does come from being grateful for what we have got. It keeps our spirit alive and our confidence strong. We all know that this is so easy to say… and we also know that achieving it can be really, really hard on a bad day. We thought that it might help to get back to basics and have a look at what being grateful is, and what actually happens to us when we feel gratitude.

Being grateful is an actual emotional response to something that is good, that touches, moves or inspires us, and that we feel appreciation for. It has been shown to chemically change our mood and makes us feel better about our life. We even – get this – become happier when we practice being grateful. We know you are saying “Really?” but the proof of this pudding is definitely in the eating. You have to try it to find out. It’s a fact. Neuroscience has shown that focusing our attention on the things we are grateful for creates a shift in our brains and we actually begin to stimulate more neurotransmitters – specifically dopamine and serotonin – which promote good feelings of happiness and contentment. Because we then feel good, we are more able to participate in daily activities that nourish us and make us happy, so it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Being grateful happens when we stop and actually just be appreciative and thankful for this very moment…for what we have right now… but rarely do we do this it seems, as often we’re so busy seeing what we don’t have and thinking about what we want and what is missing in our lives.

Gratitude is an emotional response that happens in the present moment. Having said that, we can look back and reflect on some of the amazing and lovely things that have happened to us in the past and that we feel very grateful for and by doing so we can bring that feeling back into the present moment to enrich our current lives. When we feel full of gratitude, we become shiny and bright, and we want to share it with other people and then they also feel gratitude at that moment – and so the world becomes a better place for us all to be. It’s the ‘glass half full, glass half empty’ syndrome… we can actually choose which version we want to have in our lives.

As Joni Mitchell famously sang: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” So appreciation of what we have now is absolutely imperative. And not being too entitled helps, something a lot of us unknowingly suffer from. Chrissie once had a shower in the flat where she was living that she constantly complained about because, as far as she was concerned, it was “pathetic”, “useless” and “not up to the job”. It wasn’t until she went to a hot, humid country and had to spend ten extremely sweaty and sticky days without any shower or bath, that she appreciated how very lucky she was to come home to a working shower and have fresh, clean running water. That first shower on coming home was the best one of her life and she has never complained about it again. So, we need to really get in the habit of practicing gratitude, because then, like all habits, it becomes a natural part of our daily routine, bringing with it all the benefits that appreciation has been proven to bring, such as increased well-being, better health, and happier stronger relationships.

The good news is that when we feel grateful, it is like putting money in the bank and saving it – our bank balance is building, and we also get added interest. The same facts can apply to practicing gratitude; the more we are grateful for, the more we put into our ‘inner pot’ and the more it builds up. In short – gratitude makes gratitude and gratitude makes us happy – what’s not to like? But hang on, we hear you say! That’s all very well and good when things are going well… but how can we be grateful when things aren’t so easy? When our life seems to be one great big fat cosmic joke? Sometimes it is in the letting go of things that we can appreciate what we have in our lives right now. It is really hard to feel gratitude when you are missing what once was. The loss of things and people that are familiar interrupts us and can stop our gratitude. Livvy had a big, beautiful, round oak table that she adored and had enjoyed many a meal on; but when she moved it just didn’t fit into her new house. She decided to buy a smaller table, which she didn’t really like and she moaned a lot about, mainly because it wasn’t her big beautiful table. She freely admits that she had no gratitude that she could afford to buy another table, whatever the size, and no gratitude that she could eat and sit at this new table, or that it fitted her new home and it actually looked great. She was just missing her old table that she had loved so much. Then, a few months after she moved in, as we both sat together at this very table writing this book, she suddenly said: “Do you know what? I really like this table! I’m going to let go of my old one because new stories are being built on this table now and for that, I am really grateful.” We both then felt really grateful that we could be there together, sitting around her new kitchen table on comfy chairs, stringing words together and drinking cups of tea.

It is most often the simple things that we can take for granted and forget to appreciate in our lives. Hard though it might sometimes seem, if we don’t feel we have anything to appreciate or feel grateful for anymore, we need to go right back to the basics and appreciate the really, really simple things in life. Livvy can wake up not in a good mood and finds that saying “well at least I’m alive and can be a grumpy bitch right now” makes her laugh and then there is an opportunity to have gratitude for being alive and having a laugh.

In our lives we can be grateful if we have running water… a toothbrush… a chair to sit on… shoes to wear… something to eat… a breath in and out… the list is endless. Without gratitude we forget how lucky we are for the simple things in life. Remembering those things… living abundantly… is an awareness that our life is so really rich in so many simple and wonderful ways. This in turn enables us to have compassion for those whose lives are not so rich in that moment – and perhaps inspire us to do something to help cheer them up, like make a phone call… drop by… say hello… make a donation.

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