Thankfulness is the key to contentment. In this article, I will explain how a simple daily exercise will help you to cultivate a real and enjoyable sense of happiness. In fact, to give you value for money, I’m going to show you two possible exercises.
But first, I’m going to talk you through the benefits of thankfulness and the contentment it creates.
Thankfulness and contentment in action
We’ve all seen them. The people who seem to be perfectly happy and relaxed. They are comfortable in their surroundings, and appear to be immersed in the joy of the moment. Meanwhile, we get wrapped up in the struggle of our everyday lives – work politics, bills to pay, annoying ‘friends’ or feuding relatives. The list goes on.
I’m going to bet the bank that the difference between us and them is a cultivated sense of thankfulness, and an enjoyment of the contentment this brings with it.
Well, I’ll go through my track record with you now. In the past I’ve dabbled with exercises in thankfulness and I’ve felt absolutely wonderful. But then I’ve let it slip, as we all often do. When that has happened, my world has felt a little more grey, and the obstacles grown from molehills into impassable mountains.
Just think about your office or your close circle of friends. There’s always someone who is the soothsayer of doom. They might be nice people, but they don’t feel very good. They don’t exercise thankfulness, and as a result their filter is one of struggle and adversity. What do I mean by a filter? Think of filters like glasses you put on. Whereas the happy and content people seem to be wearing rose-tinted glasses, the unhappier people you know almost seem to be wearing shades in the dark.
What that means is that they (and I bet we, to a lesser extent) are discounting positive information about our world. We are dwelling on our problems and not appreciating the good things in life. Why? I believe it is because our mind craves novelty, threats and things that stand out from the norm. Its part of an old human instinct that has kept us alive. We can see it at work in other animals. Look at the meerkat, for example. Meerkats always have at least one of their group on the lookout for threats. In our world, we are both the meerkat on the lookout and the one absorbed in foraging.
But that is not a constructive or balanced way of looking at the world. We fail to appreciate — to have a sense of thankfulness — for the things in our lives that are constant and good.
So, we must make a concerted effort to develop everyday thankfulness, and cultivate a sense of contentment. Experts tell us that the benefits are extraordinary. I have to agree, if only based on my own personal experience.
Experts on the benefits of thankfulness
Psychotherpist Amy Morin, writing for Forbes, gives an excellent roundup of the benefits of being grateful. Thankfulness, and the contentment that it brings, can improve your physical health, your psychological health, build self esteem and improve all-round performance. She says it can even reduce the effects of serious conditions such as PTSD. Her article is a good read, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.
The research she mentions is actually ongoing in the field. The Greater Good Centre, at the University of California, has put millions into research in this area. As well as the benefits that Morin mentions, their experts say gratefulness can improve generosity, reduce entitlement and bullying. There is a wealth of resources over on their site. I’ll be looking at them in more detail for future posts, but in the meantime I suggest that you take a look after reading this article.
How to feel grateful, build thankfulness and cultivate contentment
The common approach you will read everywhere is to write a diary listing the things you are grateful for. However, that’s not an approach that works for me.
Well, its probably because if I kept a diary for every exercise the experts told me to, I’d have to extend the house and build a new library.
Derrick Carpenter, one of the minds behind the Happify App, suggests a number of ways to keep things fresh. Their app provides some of them. The app, which does have a paid element, seems rather good. In fact, I’ll be taking a better look at it in future. But for now, I’ll suggest another route.
For this, you don’t need a journal or a computer. Just, perhaps, an eye on a clock. That could be a stopwatch, or a countdown timer with a gentle beep.
Exercise one — thankfulness with the eyes closed.
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit. This is important, and you also do not want to be disturbed by the television, radio or any people.
- Relax. You don’t have to do anything drastic, just notice any tension and let it go.
- Next you will be closing your eyes for a minute. It doesn’t matter if you run over (if, say, you have to check a stopwatch rather than use a countdown).
- It’s time to be grateful. Think of something which brings a real sense of thankfulness into you mind. It could be a friend you value, or a set of circumstances. It really doesn’t matter.
- Narrate. Talk to yourself about this thing you are thankful for. Explain to yourself why you are thankful. Say it with real feeling. Try and visualise as best you can.
- When a minute is up (it’s okay to open your eyes and check the time as you go if necessary) take another minute to pick something else to be thankful for. As you concentrate on this thankfulness, relish any feelings of contentment. Allow those feelings to filter out into your world.
- Repeat this exercise until a total of at least five minutes has elapsed. One minute for each thing you are thankful for.
Exercise two — thankfulness with your eyes open
The reason I had added this variation to the exercise is that sometimes things feel tough. It can be difficult to stop worries appearing in your mind’s eye when you want to be focusing on something else. This thankfulness and contentment exercise allows you to keep your eyes open.
- Sit comfortably
- Relax. Nothing too extensive, just let any tension go.
- Set your timer of choice. Like the previous exercise, it really doesn’t matter if you glance at it to check the time. It also doesn’t matter if your time runs over.
- In the first minute, pick something you are grateful for. As you do, speak to yourself in your mind about how much thankfulness you have for this person, circumstance or thing in your life.
- When that minute is over, simply pick something else.
- Finish when your five minutes are up, or simply when you want to stop.
Bear in mind there is a line, however. This doesn’t fix everything, it only helps readjust our radar. Don’t live a life of forced positivity.
Remember, I’m not an expert — I’m exploring life like you are and finding some great stuff along the way. If you feel things are serous then seek professional help.
See you in the next post.