Counting your blessings

thank-you-2.jpgWhen I was growing up my Mum and Dad often used to say to us: “You should count your blessings”.

I think they were right that I had a lot of blessings to count. Now that I’m older and more aware of what’s going on in the world I can see that my ‘cup runneth over’ in ways that would boggle the mind of some people in the developing world.

Now I think they missed a golden opportunity. “Count your blessings” was good advice, at least it tells you what to do. Unfortunately it wasn’t very specific about how I should count my blessings.

If they had said “You should count your blessings, and here’s how …” then shown me a simple way to do that then they would have set me up for life. At the time I never thought at the time to ask “How exactly do I do that?”

Reflecting on the good things in our lives or cultivating a sense of gratitude is advice as old as the hills and the sages who lived in them. There is now good evidence that cultivating gratitude has a large number of mental (and physical) health benefits.

In a study by Martin Seligman* more than 400 volunteers took part in the following exercise:

Three good things in life: Participants were asked to write down three things that went well that day and their causes every night for a week. In addition they were asked to provide a causal explanation for each thing.

After just one week of doing these exercises they were followed up for six months. Those who ‘counted their blessings’ in this way for just one week became happier and less depressed and stayed that way for at least six-months after the experiment.

Not surprisingly they found that those participants who enjoyed the gratitude exercise and continued with it past the official time period were the ones that felt the happiest

What would it be like if you integrated this process into your daily routine?

One way of looking at this is that you are training your brain to look out for the good things in your experience. To become the person who sees the glass being half full rather than half empty. People who habitually ‘sort for good’ tend to be happier, healthier and more resilient.

Unfortunately for us our culture and media are strongly encouraging us to ‘sort for bad’, to notice what is wrong and unsatisfactory. Often so they can sell us something to make you feel better. By being more grateful and cheerful you may be going a little against the tide. There might not be as many people swimming in that direction but the company is good.

Here are the instructions again.

Every evening make a written list of at least three enjoyable or satisfying experiences you had during the day. They don’t have to be extraordinary events something as simple as enjoying the first cup of tea of the day would do. Write this down and write a sentence explaining why you are grateful for this. That’s it. Nothing complicated. Do this regularly and notice what you notice.

*Positive Psychology Progress, Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, American Psychologist, July-August 2005

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