The art of being grateful—even when life is not so great

The art of being grateful

16 December 2020

Written by Jennie Bayliss

How being grateful changes things within

For the delightful, lovely and joyful times in our lives, it’s easy to be grateful. When we say thanks, express our gratitude, and notice how lucky we are, it makes us feel good and happier. And if we are thanking someone in person, it makes them feel better. When we notice the good, positive, happy, peaceful moments in life, it changes how we view the rest of our life too.

It can, though be much trickier to express gratefulness for everything in our lives. Like being grateful for the difficulties we have experienced. On the surface, being thankful for the not-so-great stuff seems ridiculous. Yet the power to find your silver-linings balances your perception about life,  reduces stress levels and inflammation within your body, and lowers blood pressure.   

Journaling your gratitude

Once a year, I do a 30-day gratitude challenge. As I begin to look back on 2023, I realise I haven’t done it this year. It’s easy to say, that I express my gratitude daily in mediation—which I do—therefore I didn’t need to write them down. Or even blame this year’s events. But I know deep down I’m kidding myself. Being grateful in my mind for just the good things, is only half the story.

The 30-day gratitude challenge is a journaling exercise. It involves writing about five things you are grateful about on that day. Four of these can be single-line entries. The fifth is written in more detail. Then comes the tricky bit. Every day you also write about one thing that is sad, troubling or worrying. The not-so-great-thing might include concerns and worries about what is happening in the world. Or dealing with a boss who driving you nuts, or perhaps a family member is pushing your buttons, or the sad loss of a loved one. The challenge is to write about it—just briefly—then turn-it around. For each negative thought, write about the silver-linings, and the lessons learnt from the difficulties. Changing negatives into positives requires you to dig deep, but the practice is rewarding. A new perspective lifts the weight of the not-such-good-thing off your shoulders. Afterwards, you feel more at peace with what has happened.

Download a Gratitude Journal Page for you to try this out.

Where to begin?

We are programmed to notice the bad, sad, tragic, and fearful far more than the happy, peaceful and loving acts in our lives. It’s part of our survival instincts, and it’s why newspapers focus on the former. And yet, gratitude is precisely the opposite. It is about noticing the good, positive, happy, peaceful moments in life.

We are programmed to notice the bad, sad, tragic, and fearful far more than the happy, peaceful and loving acts in our lives. It’s part of our survival instincts, and it’s why newspapers focus on the former. And yet, gratitude is precisely the opposite. It is about noticing the good, positive, happy, peaceful moments in life.

Whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person, doing this exercise for 30-days will dramatically change your viewpoint for the better. It increases the bandwidth of what you see as valuable in your life.

Dealing with the negatives

For many people, the last few years have been challenging—the after effects of the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, with rumblings of war getting closer.  There are so many negatives you may think there is nothing to be grateful for, no silver linings and no lessons to be learnt. But there are. It just may take more to uncover them.

Regarding the Pandemic, I have been luckier than most, but it hasn’t always been easy. I didn’t foresee the first lockdown, and so overnight, I lost my primary income stream when I had to cancel all retreats at The Jasmine House. My mum was one of the thousands shielded, but she still caught COVID-19. Mum was in the hospital for a month, and in the beginning, it was touch and go whether she would make it. My daughter’s wedding had to be cancelled, as well as some booked flights. And living alone in the first lockdown without any social bubbles in place, was lonely at times. Many people have had far worse experiences than me. But let me take closing The Jasmine House, as an example of how to find the lessons and silver linings.

Speaking to my coach Damien, about The Jasmine House, we discussed how I was going to regenerate an income. I said I would aim to get ten clients who I could help remotely. Damien told me that wasn’t enough; I should seek to have fifteen. There were he said, hundreds of people who needed my help, so finding fifteen new clients would be easy! He encouraged me to call past clients to see if I could help them. After licking my wounds over the cancelled retreats, and overcoming my fear of picking up the phone, I did what needed to be done. By the end of April, I had found 17 new remote working clients.

Lessons and Silver Linings

Having to shift gears in this way made me consider how I worked. My old way of telephone life coaching didn’t feel right. Also, I assumed this was only for a few months. So, I created a new flexible system offering both telephone and Zoom sessions. I also set packages that for the first time, included emotional healing. Along the way, I discovered Calendly, an app for automatic bookings. The lessons learnt from the forced closing of The Jasmine House had led to a new way of remote working, that may also help me through the quieter months in the future.

In the first lockdown, I felt the need to provide some healing space for everyone who needed it. So, I ran free meditation classes. It helped me as much as I hope it helped those who attended. I would not have considered this before the Pandemic, and maybe this is something I can again do in the future.

And there were silver linings too. Typically, I host many retreats over the weekend. Working remotely gave me back my weekends. In the first lockdown, I loved the quieter time with virtually no cars on the roads. The weather was kind, so I walked all the island’s pathways, sat and marvelled at the sea, and heard more birdsong.

With gratitude, I can see the whole picture, both the difficulties and the good. I now see that while work has been more challenging than usual, I can still survive and thrive. And I have new skills too.

Connecting with nature

When you take time to notice the marvels of nature, it increases your appreciation for all life.

I am lucky to live on Portland. Within minutes from my front door, I can be on the beach, beside the harbour or on the clifftops. But no matter where you live, nature is never far away, as most towns and every city have at least one municipal park. Looking at maps, paper or online, it’s possible to find many more green spaces—some tucked away in unlikely places. If you rarely get out into nature, try to get out there more often.

As you step into gratitude, noticing the seasons, the sun, sky, trees, plants, flowers, animals and every living thing, you feel better. You will discover the patterns and colours of the trees, plants and flowers. And hear the sounds of the animals, birds and insects.

When you walk outside, notice the weather in all its variances. It is easier to appreciate the sunshine more than grey-drizzle, but even rain has beauty in it. As you travel, become aware of how the land undulates. See how rivers, lakes and the sea reflect the light of the sky. Watch the rising and setting of the sun. Notice it all. Be in awe of it all. Soak it in. Being grateful that you have noticed it helps you realise that you are connected to this beauty too.

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