Finding gratitude

The idea of practicing gratitude can be a fluffy topic, but it’s finally leaving the yoga mat and entering the mainstream. Here at Tremendousness we thought it was important to help add to that momentum. Part of what’s stoking gratitude’s recent popularity is the amount of research that’s going into it—and the positive proof that’s coming out.

Here’s the main takeaway for you: gratitude improves your health.

So listen up, Debbie Downer! The fact that the neural pathways in your brain can be rerouted to make you a more positive—and healthier—person is powerful. And while hard science plays a big role in recent research, we made a conscious decision to avoid overly medical and scientific representations in this project. In fact, we worked hard to figure out how abstract visual concepts and metaphors could help create create a calm, clear, fun, and meaningful narrative around the science of gratitude and how to incorporate it into your daily life (you can read more about the design in this short case study).

Anyway, the video we made is above. The infographic is at the bottom of this post.

The idea of explaining the power of gratitude came to me during unanticipated negative circumstances. I hope this blog post finds you in a better place than I was, but in the event that you’re at a particular low point it’s all the more relevant. About a year and a half ago, my relationship of 10+ years unraveled. Quickly. Before I knew it, I was unexpectedly and involuntarily single. And devastated. In that wreckage I had to reference a list of daily activities to help me function:

  • get up.
  • drink water.
  • eat good food.
  • do not post on facebook.
  • breathe. deep.
  • remember what you want in life and know that it’s still available to you.
  • drink water.

In that simple list is the idea of staying grounded, of staying in the moment. One step in front of the other. Basic. Life.

So I breathed. That turned into learning to meditate. And somewhere in learning to chant “nam myoho renge kyo” and other mantras, I started getting a little better at reshaping negatives into opportunities.

A few days into my post-relationship reality a very good friend texted me: “Be kind to yourself, man. Do shit that makes you feel good: buy some furniture, travel, spend time with friends/family, eat some good food, drink awesome cocktails, get that tattoo!”

I tried that too, and somewhere in my tangled mess I found gratitude. I made a conscious choice to see things differently and I came to view adversity as a conduit for learning and growing. The perspective you give yourself when you’re struggling dictates your happiness, not your circumstances. By choosing how we respond to situations we become the authors of our own stories, rather than just being a character in someone else’s.

Happily, I had the luxury of doing all the things on my friend’s list (and more!). I’m still doing those things—consciously. The concept of gratitude really was life changing for me. I still reflect daily on things I’m thankful for. It’s not always award-winning, day-slaying stuff. A lot of the time it’s just that my kid hugged me, I found a good parking spot, or it’s a perfectly sunny 75º fall day in St. Louis. It’s really easy to miss all that when you walk through life wearing negative or apathetic blinders (that you may not even realize you’re wearing!).

Gratitude is about opening up. It’s about looking for reasons to smile—and always finding something.

As a coach of a sixth grade girls volleyball team, I recently sat down with my players and their parents for a pre-season meeting. I preached the idea of celebrating small wins—a bunch of 12-year-olds playing volleyball for the first time is not exactly a recipe for riveting sports action. Instead, we focus on happy high-5s when we get two passes on a point or when someone simply gets her serve over the net. We don’t even care if we win the point, we cheer for the trying. And we smile. We are grateful for small things.

Gratitude really works when those small things start to add up. Try, and they will. They’ll add up to a powerful shift in perspective—you’ll actually re-wire your brain!

So here’s a high-5 to celebrate a small win today. Watching this video this might be one of yours. If so, thank you for that.

Here are some of the resources we found helpful:

  1. Gratitude Works! by Robert A. Emmons