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Why gratitude is a healthy mindset

10 March 2018

In the previous blog, I have focused on the expectation of gratitude in children and why I believe that any such expectation goes against the inherently self-centred nature of a child.

It is a very different matter with adults.  Even in challenging times, we have a choice.  We can focus on the bad things in our life, lick our wounds, nourish and feed futile regrets and feel sorry for ourselves.  Or we can train our mind to focus on the positives and put the pain, the anger, the regret and our worries in perspective.

We can certainly start teaching this concept of gratitude to the young adults in our schools, once they have mastered the tumultuous teenage years and begin to be able to gain a wider perspective and develop a proper sense of their own identity and of who they are.  It is only when we have gained a certain amount of self-knowledge and self-awareness that we can truly reflect, in a broader context, on our reasons to be grateful.

As a child, I would have cringed if I had been forced to express in words what I was grateful for.  I had some insights, but kept them to myself.  During our family holidays, when I was out playing with my sister and saw families with just one child, I often thought to myself how lucky I was that I had a sister and therefore always a comrade to play with.  My sister and I always invited these lone children to play with us, and maybe my sister thought the same as I did, but I think we would rather have died than exchanging cheesy words of gratitude to each other.

I still don’t tend to verbalise it much, but I do now have a very strong sense of perspective and of gratitude, and it has kept me afloat during difficult periods.  I came close to despair when an unexpected chimney collapse and resulting expensive roof repair for my Scottish flat hit me at the end of last year, when I really did not need this extra expense and felt that everything had conspired against me.  But as I stepped back from this situation and thought of the good things in my life, I was truly grateful for so many things that are more important:  family, friends, health, loyalty or personal integrity.

I am glad to live in a beautiful part of the world and to have the security to stay here for a little longer.  I hope to benefit from an inspiring course this year and from further writing and research.  I look forward to meeting new people and planning the next stage in my career, and I am grateful to get such a strong sense of fulfilment and intrinsic joy out of my profession.  I walked along some lovely beaches in Sydney this week and enjoyed their sandy expanses, the drop in humidity, the fresh breeze, as well as the realisation that my knee pain has lessened a little.  I marvelled at a magical sunrise at Balmoral Beach on Wednesday morning and enjoyed the serenity of Maroubra Beach later that day.

None of this makes our worries go away entirely, and we may still have financial concerns, miss some important people in our lives, mourn the loss of friends that meant something to us as we think of our conversations with them, be it their sharp intelligence, their sense of humour or the shared laughs and memories, but as we do, life goes on.  A grateful mindset reminds us of that.  Feeling pain makes us human, but allowing it to overwhelm us would be conceding defeat. Gratitude boosts our health and our immune system and makes us into more rounded, forgiving and compassionate human beings.

Some people don’t mind sitting around a table and freely sharing what they are grateful for.  I am too introvert for this.  Doing it in writing is easier, but even here I am holding a lot back.  What I wrote here only touches the surface.  But whether we do it publicly or privately:  we should all train ourselves to practise gratitude, to focus on the good things in our life, to tell others why we are grateful to them, to count our blessings in our heart and to accept ourselves and those around us as we are:  human beings, with vulnerabilities and imperfections, each with our own challenges, but usually with good intentions.  Having the empathy to do this and to reflect about it is maybe a reason in itself to be grateful.

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