Is Gratitude the Antidote to Worry?

This is the third post in a three-part series with tools you can use to reduce stress, find more calm and feel happier.

Crisis antidote

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

It’s been a beautiful summer here in Connecticut. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten in the habit of taking an early morning walk almost every day. During my walks, I often encounter an elderly neighbor who is also up and about at 6:15 a.m. We typically exchange a few words as I pass by.

After a few days, I noticed a pattern to our conversations.

Beautiful scene  on my walk
Beautiful scene on my walk

Day One

Me: “Good morning! What a beautiful day.”

She: “Was that your garbage service waking me up at 5:00 a.m.? That truck is too loud.”

Day Two

Me: “Nice time to be out. The air is still cool.”

She: “It’s going to be miserably hot. My flowers will die.”

Day Three

Me: “What a gorgeous morning!”

She: “Were you the ones playing that loud music all night? Spoiled my sleep.”

Day Four

Me (with a nod as I walk by without slowing; this negativity is starting to put a damper on my early morning happy): “G’morning.”

She (with a disapproving look): “Have the neighbors taken in renters? Not supposed to.”

Negative Nelly Alert

Is there someone in your life like this who always finds the negative? Who focuses on what’s wrong, diminishes the positive and magnifies one setback into catastrophic proportions? Or perhaps you’ve even been that person sometimes…

True confession: I’ve been down this rabbit hole (but fortunately climbed back out again). Some years back when I was looking to return to the workforce after almost 15 years as a stay-at-home mom, I was very stressed out over finding a job. My thoughts could easily head in a downward spiral, often spurred by my fears and worries. When I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for, my thoughts went something like this:

“I don’t have the right credentials. My computer skills aren’t good enough. My corporate experience isn’t that relevant anymore. They probably want someone younger. No one will hire me. I’ll never find the right job.”

Phew! Even writing this now brings my energy down. I had to take a hard look at how my worries were hurting, not helping my job search and figure out how to deal with them in a better way.

Time for “Re-Neducation”

This clip from an old Simpson’s episode made me laugh: Simpsons: Negative Nelly. Not sure exactly what that do-gooder Ned Flanders had in mind for his “re-neducation” program, but I agree that shifting your perspective towards the positive can make a big difference in your life.

One of the fastest ways I know to do this is by expressing gratitude. Here are three things you can do today to bring more gratitude into your life and feel the shift towards happiness.

  1. Find three things you are grateful for each morning. It can be helpful to write them down, perhaps in a gratitude journal. I do this every morning and it helps me start my day on a positive note.
  2. Say thank you more often. There are so many opportunities to do this! Thank the cashier who has been on her feet all day, the barista at the coffee shop who has been at work since 5:00 a.m., the parking lot attendant who is working a late shift. Your kids, your spouse, your dog. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and a simple thank you said with a smile can make someone’s day.
  3. Express your gratitude. Write, call or text someone who has helped you or touched your life in some way, tell them how and thank them. People are sometimes surprised when I do this, but they’re always appreciative. The fact that they’re happily surprised makes me want to do this more often.

Developing an “attitude of gratitude” has brought me more peace and happiness than I could have imagined and has helped me put my worries in perspective.

Here’s a fun challenge for you: try one (or all) of these suggestions for one week and see how you feel. It can help if you keep note of your experiences. My hunch is you’ll feel lighter, more hopeful and a lot less worried.

But don’t take my word for it – give it a go and see what happens, then leave a comment. I’d love to know!

And for more positive inspiration, check out veteran National Geographic photographer DeWitt Jones’ work at: Celebrate What’s Right.

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