Watch TV or read a magazine for more than 30 seconds and you’ll be convinced of 1,000,000 things you must have to make yourself happy this Christmas and beyond.
But as we all learn somewhere around our second or third Boxing Day, no matter how wonderful material gifts are, they only keep us happy and satisfied for a few hours before we’re looking for something else to entertain us.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some post about how we should shun all material gifts this year in favour of personal development, Spiritual growth and huge – because while I am all about all of those things, I’m also very patiently waiting for Santa to deliver the Wonder Woman DVD and my annual David Beckham calendar…
No, instead today’s post is all about the greatest gift that I’ve ever given myself, and the one I’d encourage you to take for yourself this year, and maybe even to share with others that you love too.
I’m talking about gratitude.
Now before you groan about another clichéd gratitude post and click the back button on your browser let me explain, and let me tell you why I honestly believe gratitude is the best thing you can give yourself.
You see, the work that I do and the journey I’ve been on for myself means that there are loads of things I could and would encourage you to share with yourself – love, respect, boundaries, healing of the past and the life that you deserve as a very brief starter for ten.
But of the entire journey I’ve been on gratitude is the one that has had the biggest impact on my life.
You see I used to be a worrier – always panicking about what might go wrong in future or what I could’ve done differently in the past; I used to be an “if only” person – always dwelling on the way things could be rather than how they are; and I used to be someone who looked at other people’s lives and in their happiness saw the reflection of all of the ways I felt that I’d failed.
Gratitude changed those attitudes.
OK, not overnight – it actually happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice how much better it had made me feel until the day I stopped and pondered just how my reactions had changed, in the same way you one day realise that persistent cough you’d been struggling with isn’t bothering you anymore, or that the ex who tore your heart into shreds just isn’t on your mind now – but that gradual change was a huge and powerful one.
It changed me by focusing my mind not on the past or the future but on what was going on for me right now; it changed me by making me realise just how awesome my life was already, even without the bits that I’d like to create and add to in future; and it hanged me by allowing me to genuinely share in other people’s happiness because I recognised the happiness in my life too.
In short, gratitude brought me the kind of peace I’d previously thought only a million pounds and the perfect man would bring me (although in case you’re listening Universe, I’d be super grateful for a Euromillions win and Chris Evans – Captain America, not the TFI Friday guy – under my Christmas tree too, just saying).
My gratitude practice is pretty similar to the one that’s talked about so regularly now it’s become a bit of a cliché: at the end of every day I sit down and write a list of at least ten things I’m grateful for in the past 24 hours.
As I’ve said before it’s something I’ve been doing for years now, and I totally confess that when I first started I couldn’t see what the big deal was… “I’m grateful for my family and getting to work on time when traffic was bad, so what?” But the beauty of gratitude isn’t necessarily in the lists themselves.
(Although I will interrupt myself here to say that I do bloody love the lists. I keep all of my old gratitude journals because they’re books full of things that made me happy, even during some of the toughest times of my life, which I find pretty wonderful.)
No, the beauty of gratitude listing is in the way it starts to change your mindset and approach to life… The more you get into the habit of writing your lists, the more you start to consciously look for and recognise things to be grateful for throughout the rest of the day. The more you do it, the more you start to recognise just how much there is to be grateful for in a life that might previously have seemed meh, or downright rubbish.
And what’s more, when you get yourself into the habit of writing a list every single day you start to notice that even the bad days that would previously have plummeted you into a place of misery are still filled with things to feel grateful for.
That’s not about ignoring the tough days, or about pretending that everything is hunky dory when it’s not. Instead it’s about training your mind to remember that no matter how dark the sky may seem, it’s always full of stars.
So as we move through this next week of festive chaos and into a brand new year I’d encourage not only to focus on how much you have to be grateful for under the tree or around the Christmas dinner table, but also to grab yourself a pen and a notepad, and give yourself the gift of gratitude for every day that’s still to come.