Thoughts on health, happiness and sustainability

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My little book of gratitude

Earlier this year I was feeling a bit worn down by various things, and found myself asking why I’m feeling so negative when there are so many positive things in my life. In fact, the vast majority of things in my life are positive. It’s strange that our moods often don’t reflect our reality. One or two negative things can dominate our thoughts and our mood even when everything else is good. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Shouldn’t we always feel good when most things are good?  Well, it seems that nature has other ideas and I am guessing that it is because our brains are wired to identify and react to danger, so difficult situations often claim our mental focus instinctively.

However, most of the things that we worry or stress about are not genuine threats like we would face in nature. Instead, we’ve trained ourselves to treat many problems way too seriously. As a modern culture, we’ve lost perspective of what danger really is, just like we’ve lost perspective of health and happiness. The more comfortable our lives, the more likely we are to make mountains out of mole hills, and forget just how lucky we are.

I recently started an experiment to see if I could restore some of this balance; I took a fresh notebook and started my ‘little book of gratitude’, in which I would start each day by writing down a minimum of ten things that I’m grateful for. To me, ten just seemed like a good number because it’s enough to make me think, yet few enough that it takes minimal time each morning.

So I’ve been keeping the book and a pen next to my bed and writing in it first thing each morning, meaning that no matter what happened the day before, what I have planned for the day ahead, or how badly I slept, I spend a few minutes in the present focusing on the positive before I start each day. It’s an amazingly therapeutic experience, and I’ve found that I’ve been far more positive and happy, not just in the mornings, but throughout the day. In fact, I’ve not been limiting myself writing down ten things that I’m grateful for; if I want to write more, then I allow myself to write more; if I want to top it up later in the day, then I do; ten is simply a minimum.

In my first month of gratitudes I wrote 434 things that I’m grateful for without missing a single day, and I’m feeling the benefit. Looking back through this first month, it is also fascinating to see what I am really grateful for, giving me better perspective of what’s truly important in life, and what I should value most.

I did a very crude analysis of what I had been grateful for and put things into categories.  It was hard to categorise everything and many things fall into multiple categories, but I did the best I could and the results were really interesting.

The single biggest thing that I am grateful for is family & friendship, which represented 30% of the items I had written.  Out of that, over half was specifically attributed to my wife, most of the rest to close friends, relatives and colleagues and a little bit to more distant friends and even strangers.  Then there were a few categories with pretty much equal weighting, which were nature (11.7%), food (9.7%), health (9.7%) and rest & relaxation (8.5%).  Essentially, these top five categories covered most of the fundamentals of health and happiness.

After that I had material comfort (4.6%), travel (4.4%) and money (1.8%).  The rest was made up of miscellaneous things that didn’t fit easily into any specific category.

Overall, it was really helpful to get some insight into where I derive most of my own happiness, that friends and family are so important, that good food, nature, health and relaxation are fundamental and that material comfort and money do have a role to play, but are far less significant when viewed in the big picture.

If you feel like you could benefit from a more positive mindset, why not spend a month writing your own little book of gratitude and see how you feel after a few weeks.

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