If you're anything like me, you're up to your eyeballs in people telling you that you should practice gratitude on a daily basis. At least once a week there is a headline blog on the Living Section of the Huffington Post about gratitude. I've noticed in my own life that practicing gratitude, giving thanks for the good things in my life, is easy when I'm in a good mood. Gratitude is much harder to come by when my mood is sour. Ironically, that's exactly the time when looking at what I have rather than focusing on what I lack is the most important. But, then again, that's the whole point...practicing every day makes you notice and appreciate the little things in life more often and makes it easier to identify those things for which we are thankful (even when appreciation for them is hard to come by.)
If you are reading this and are feeling depressed, you may be having an even harder time finding things to be grateful for. It will be helpful for you to start by overcoming this feeling first. Please use my article on Battling the Great Depression as your guide.
One study shows that writing down 5 things you are grateful for once a week improves emotional well being. Another study shows that writing every day helps to reinforce an attitude of gratitude better than writing sporadically. So the point is...whichever way works best for you is enough. Personally, if you are like me and your brain is geared toward depression, then doing this practice every day is wise. Don't forget to include the less obvious if you are struggling to find something to be thankful for, such as "I'm grateful that I have two legs that work." "I'm grateful that my dog is healthy." "I'm grateful that I have a job to go to everyday and am always paid on time."
Find yourself a notebook, journal, or even a legal pad. Dedicate a window of time during your day to write down your gratitude, or jot down things throughout the day as they occur to you, reviewing your list at days end to anchor your experiences. Some people like to add a prayer or positive affirmation to complete their ritual. There are no hard and fast rules. This practice can be customized to your needs.
Some of my clients who are struggling with eating disorders and body image write things like: "I'm so grateful that I spoke the truth and didn't binge and purge today." Or, "I love and I accept myself just as I am." If that doesn't meet your need for the truth, try "I am willing to love and accept myself just as I am" instead. Being willing to accept something is often enough.
Now if you are one of those dedicated souls who have been diligently practicing gratitude and yet your emotional state still doesn't seem improved, I would like to offer you this explanation. You may be holding onto unrecognized deep seated beliefs called "core negative beliefs" -- the deepest and most fundamental assumptions and expectations we have about life. These are the real troublemakers, for they are the unconscious road blocks to our happiness. Core Negative Beliefs are so basic to our thinking and influence our feelings so easily that we don't recognize them as "beliefs" at all; we assume they are the true nature of reality, "the way life is."
The following 6 are so prevalent in our culture that many of us have them to some degree. The trick is to become aware of them so that you can change them thereby un-blocking your access to gratitude.
1. I am powerless. I don't have the power to create my life. I'm a victim of outside circumstances. I'm helpless. Other people do things to me. I'm not responsible for what happens to me.
2. Scarcity. There's not enough to go around of whatever I want. Therefore I have to do without (or grab more than my fair share and cause others to do without, or grab it while I've go the chance.)
3. Life is a struggle. Things are hard. Life is difficult. It's not okay for life to be easy, enjoyable, pleasurable, fun. If things are going well, watch out! Something bad is sure to happen. If I suffer enough in this life, I'll get my reward (hopefully) in the next.
4. I'm an unworthy person. I don't deserve to be happy, healthy, wealthy. I don't deserve to be loved. Something's wrong with me. I'm not good enough. I'm not smart, talented, loveable (fill in the blank.)
5. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of power. I'm afraid to take a risk, for fear I'll fail or succeed. If I fail others will reject me. If I succeed others will envy me, want something from me. I'll be isolated. I won't be able to uphold my image. I'll be too powerful. I'm afraid of my own power.
6. I don't trust myself, I don't trust the universe. I'm afraid to trust my feelings, my intuition. I'm afraid there is no higher power to take care of me. I'm afraid to go with the power of the universe inside of me. I'm afraid to let go of m individual control and surrender to the higher force.
For each one of these core negative beliefs is a corresponding affirmation taken from the work of Shakti Gawain. But for the our purposes, let it suffice to alert you to what may be standing in the way of your ability to express true gratitude. I have bumped up against each one of these in my life and am committed to remaining aware of how they may influence my feelings and perceptions of my life's circumstances at all times, not because I'm some evolved, higher being, but because I want to feel happy.
Step #5...Practice gratitude daily is just one of 12 steps to breaking free of chronic dieting, body hatred, and eating disorders. Here are the steps in their entirety:
1. Admit you have needs that haven't been met.
2. Seek help and support.
3. Look for answers...don't stop until you've found them.
4. Look for solutions...stop submitting, stop rebelling.
5. Practice gratitude daily.
6. Develop a balanced point of view.
7. Share your stories with others...you are not alone.
8. Clear away the wreckage of your past...mourn the lost opportunities.
9. Continuously revise your life story.
10. Practice honesty and compassion for self and others.
11. Meet your needs..communicate honestly and directly.
12. Knowing that you are not powerless, food will fall into its healthful place.