Tag Archives: positive psycholgy

The power of gratitude

13 May

Written by Kirri White.  Follow me on twitter or facebook or email me  kirri@happymumsathome.com

There have been times in my life when I have found it next to impossible to be happy. Dark lonely days, where smiles and hugs from family members failed to penetrate my blanket of despair.  A pervading sense of disconnection, apathy and complete inability to experience gratitude….

Yup, that was me.  I’ve suffered from depression and I’m ok writing and talking about it.

I know I’m not alone.

Depression is the third largest individual health problem in Australia after heart disease
and stroke. (ref)

1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of depression during their life. (ref)

Each year, approximately 1,000,000 adults and 100,000 young people in Australia experience a depressive illness. More than 50% will not seek treatment. (ref)

For me, one of the most challenging facets of this illness is the fact that there are many people who would prefer not to hear about it, or acknowledge it as a real illness.  Depression may not be as taboo as it was twenty years ago but “mental illness” of any sort is still stigmatized.

How bad does it feel when you attempt to share your pain, only to be told over
and over –

You’ll be ok, you just have to try harder.

Don’t cry – we don’t have to talk about it anymore, ok?

Come on, snap out of it! Think about how this might be affecting your babies!

Helpful, no.  Hurtful, yes.  Understandable?  Yeah, I get it.  If you’re depressed, you are a definite fun-assassin!

But that was then and this is now.  That part of me has faded into the background and a newer version emerged – genuinely smiling, appreciative and happy.

Most of the time.

So what if that black dog comes round for another visit!  I’m far more resourceful and resilient now and the knowledge that I have beaten depression before is both comforting and empowering.

 

The power of gratitude

Believe it or not, expressing gratitude on a daily basis was one of the most effective weapons in my arsenal for defeating depression.

I was fortunate that even in my most depressed state – I never gave up. I knew that I could fight my way back to wellness even when the actual experience of being happy seemed as far away as the moon.

I took to recording my ugliest thoughts and fears on paper, in a hopeful effort to have them disintegrate into the harried scrawls of ink.

I also began a daily gratitude journal.  Maybe I couldn’t feel those sunshine thoughts, but surely I could find a few things to be grateful for?

Writing one or two sentences every day was something I knew I could commit to.

Some days it was being thankful for nothing more than a great cup of coffee or a two-hour stint of uninterrupted sleep.  Other days, observing the melodic babbling of my babies or the stoic way my Canadian family braved the brutal winter elements; were enough to keep my feet planted in the realm of possibility.

I also noticed that the act of recording gratitude accumulated to the point where I could soon find five things instead of just one to be genuinely thankful for.  My list began to grow and flow with ease and eventually I started to feel the gratitude rather than just write about it.

After six months of committing to this practice and combined with counselling, exercise, medication and the loving support of a few family members and friends – I was able to reclaim my passion for life.  Damn, it felt good!

I’m not saying that this daily practice of being grateful was a cure for my depression but I do believe it was a crucial factor for recovery.

How can gratitude increase happiness?              

The power of gratitude and its positive effect on mood and well-being has been widely documented (see here).

Being grateful moves your focus from a mindset of scarcity to abundance.

Appreciating and noticing the small blessings leads to a focal point of more – more positive things to take note of and a heightened awareness of the miniscule details that bring pleasure.

Moreover, like many habits – the longer you do it, the easier it becomes and the more powerful the effects can be.  Gratitude helps you maintain a more positive outlook and contributes to emotional well-being.

It also has social benefits – we all prefer to hang with positive people, right?

Creating an atmosphere of gratitude in your home

It can be challenging trying to instill an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in your home.   Children are notoriously self-centred and unappreciative, particularly when it comes to their own family members.

I have found that the most effective way to increase an appreciative atmosphere is to model the behavior.  Children get annoyed when you constantly tell them to thank every person they meet but if they notice you always make a point of giving thanks when called for, they are sure to follow suit…eventually.

Writing small notes or sending emails of Thanks in a timely manner is also an effective way to teach gratitude.  Thanking
Grandma on Skype for a birthday gift, or writing a note to a teacher for a fun lesson well taught are recent examples of gratitude my girls have initiated.

Nature provides endless opportunities and spectacles for inquisitive minds to marvel at. A rainbow or butterfly on your walk to the park.  Eating lush tropical fruit on a hot summer’s day.   Observing natures gifts together is not only fun for kids but also reminds us big kids to take note of the things that we so often take for granted due to years of familiarity.

My favourite, most effective display of appreciation in our household is the ‘Gratitude Prayer’.

We take turns at dinner time to have a prayer of gratitude – a practice that the girls enjoy and add their own flavour to –

I’m thankful that my hair was pretty today and I got to see ‘Barbie in a Fashion Fairytale’.

I really liked the chocolate easter egg I ate and I hope I get some more tomorrow.

Every now and then they also delight with their thoughtfulness and an inkling that they are beginning to grasp the power of gratitude-

Thank you for my daddy who works so hard….my sister who is an angel from the sky cos she plays with me at school…. and my uncle who I miss lots and lots.

That’s it from me today.

Let me know in the comments how you like to ‘get your grateful on’?

~Kirri

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The importance of filling your bucket

9 Mar

My identical twin daughters turned five years old on Sunday and I’m sitting here wondering how on earth that happened?

It really was just yesterday that they appeared surgically, as bundled up baby rats in the operating theatre. I know – comparing them to vermin is pretty harsh, right?  It’s just that they were super tiny, with little body-fat and skin that was transparent in certain areas. They looked like they needed more time before they could be considered ‘fully cooked’ and yet, at 38 weeks, they were apparently perfectly Al dente – just slightly scrawny.

Still…I learned to love them, feed them and teach them cool stuff and now…. they are five.  

The twins recently started attending prep year at school and after a somewhat shaky start, have been making friends, learning new skills and becoming more independent.  It’s an observation that, for me, is both encouraging and alarming.

One day last week they had their first encounter with a substitute teacher and when hubby and I picked them up after school, she approached us and said:

“These are your girls?  They were wonderful today.  You’re very lucky. You won’t have any problems with these two.  I see many happy years ahead in the future – for all of you”

With her tight braids, chocolate-brown shiny skin, and commanding voice – she reminded me of Mama Odie from “The Princess and a Frog”.  Yes, it is sad that I now use Disney Princess movies as frames of reference, but I’m telling you there was something majestic and magical about her!    

Of course, her kind words mirrored back what I often think to myself anyway. I love my girls and am the same as any other parent who thinks their children are special and fabulous and every other adjective likened to wonderful.   But when a virtual stranger affirms these biased thoughts, it is very edifying.

The substitute teacher may have already forgotten that she offered these words of acknowledgement, but I carried them round for several days like precious stones in my pocket.  Those words, I will never forget.

Then, a few days ago, I received a profound and heart-felt email from a friend, thanking me for my support during a particularly dark time in their lives.  He noted that while I must already know how much it had meant to him, he wanted to remind, and thank me again.

Funnily enough, until that exact moment, I did not know for certain, how significant my actions had been.   Sure, I believed our friendship was real and meaningful, but we haven’t seen each other in many years and recent contact has been sporadic.  I was unsure if the value of our friendship and esteem was felt on a mutual level and to have that confirmed, was both reassuring and touching.

On both aforementioned occasions, the emotional impact of words was considerable. I felt acknowledged and assured that my actions mattered – that I mattered. I also noticed that for the rest of the day, my general demeanour was lighter and brighter!

It made me think – How often do we hold back from offering words of acknowledgement or thanks to the people we share this planet with?   How many times have I failed to thank, or taken for granted, my friends, family and connections?  More than I would like to admit.

In 2004, Donald Clifton and Tom Rath published a book titled “How full is your bucket”.

Based on more than 50 years of research in the area of Positive Psychology, they employed a simple metaphor of a bucket and dipper to explain how our daily interactions either improve or diminish other people’s lives.  The basic premise is that saying something positive to another person can fill someones ‘bucket’, resulting in renewed energy and a positive outlook for both parties.  Conversely, negative comments undermine, sap energy and lower the levels in our emotional buckets. 

The book effectively illustrates the important choice we are faced with every day – to fill someone’s bucket with positive words or say and do things that dip from another’s bucket, thereby diminishing their lives and our own. 

My thought is this…let people know that they matter, remind them of their good points, thank them for their efforts; acknowledge them for their time.   Our connections and relationships have the power to join hearts, minds and countries together in a collective consciousness of unity.

I can’t tell you how much my heart leapt with love and pride when that teacher took the time to acknowledge my girls.  Similarly, when my friend contacted me, it really bought home how a small display of gratitude and affection can effectively impact someone’s day from miles away.

My little girls are now one year older. They are far from being babies or even toddlers and are old enough to remember every sentiment that falls carelessly from my mouth.  I intend on ensuring, every day, that they will also be showered with love, smiles and affirmations. 

They may not listen to me as much as I would like, but I figure that if I make more time to fill the emotional reservoirs of others, they will learn by modelling and become fabulous bucket-fillers by the time they reach adulthood.

Happy Birthday beautiful girls!

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