Most mornings, I do an exercise right after I wake up to get myself thinking in the most important way possible: I get myself to start thinking about all the things I am grateful for in my life, starting with the smallest, and leading up to the largest. Here's how it works:
I make my first of many cups of coffee of the day (I'm digging Wild Goose's Tanzania Tarime this week), I throw on a jacket, and I take to the outside world for a walk and gratitude talk. I get up early, between 5 and 6 am most days, so the scene outside is consistently serene, peaceful, and beautiful... and even sometimes very, very cold. It helps to clear my head and get my mind focused on what I'm thankful for.
Some of you may know I am a follower of Jesus. For me, my time of gratitude is centered around thanking God for as many things as I can think of in my life. Whether you believe in my God or a god or a higher power, it's easy for any of us to fall in to the trap of feeling like we don't have enough... and it usually happens in the first 5-10 minutes after waking up.
"it's easy for any of us to fall in to the trap of feeling like we don't have enough... "
Thankfully, we have a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. I think the big reason for this is that human existence and the perpetuation of culture and society thrives on our emotional desire to progress. We become unhappy because it is evolutionarily successful for us to want progress... it's just, we want progress, primarily, for ourselves and ourselves only.
When we start our days with a mind of gratitude, we put ourselves in a mindset of abundance - not of lack - which carries us through our day. Tasks become easier to complete, the days goes by quicker and more beautifully, and there's generally a higher appreciation for life's intricacies.
This morning, I was thankful for:
My delicious coffee
The surprisingly cold California air
My fiancée who just moved to the U.S. from Australia so we can get married
My family and their kindness and support
The support of my friends in my photography career
And much, much more.
The benefits of this exercise are tenfold. If you're stuck on where to start with gratitude, I have a little trick. Because I always make coffee in the morning, without fail, I start with that... the smallest, simplest thing that I could easily take for granted. It jumpstarts my brain from one thing to the next. When you try to do this exercise, I recommend a few things:
4 Tips for Gratitude
1. Clear a space ahead of time
The night before, intend yourself on waking up the next day and starting your morning by giving thanks for all the things in your life you can think of. When you set aside intentional time beforehand to do this exercise, you won't get caught up in life and forget to make this happen. Carve out 10 or even just 5 minutes to do this tomorrow morning, after you make a cup of coffee or brush your teeth or before you get in you car to go to work.
2. Start small
When you're first beginning to do this, coming up with a list of things your thankful for might actually seem daunting. I had a hard time for the first few weeks coming up with stuff I was thankful for... then I realized that there was more for me to be thankful about than just the big goals in life I had achieved. I could be thankful for my coffee, or the jacket I'm wearing in the cold, or the city I live in, or the airplane passing overhead, or the burrito I ate for dinner last night (If you don't know this about me, I love both airplanes AND burritos.) Starting small leads to bigger and bigger thoughts of gratitude.
3. Write it down
If you're struggling to come up with things in your head, write them down on a piece of paper or dedicate a notebook to your gratefulness instead. It helps some people to start by writing instead of just thinking, and has helped me in many ways in the past.
4. Take a walk
For myself, this exercise works best if I go for a walk. I've been doing it this way for over a year, and I've seen huge success in the correlation between getting my body moving and getting my mind moving. I live in Portland, so in the winter, instead of walking in the freezing morning rain, I let my car warm up while I make coffee and then I go for a short drive around my neighborhood while I give thanks for everyone and everything in my life, heater full-blast.
It's not unsurprising to me that this concept has been scientifically proven to be better for all aspects of your health. According to Forbes Magazine, "Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression." When we make space for gratitude, we make space for happiness, and ultimately, our future well-being.
"His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression."
When I first started doing this exercise a year and some-odd time ago, I noticed a massive increase in my overall happiness and a massive REDUCTION in my stress levels in all areas of my life. Whenever I begin to feel more and more stressed out, I realize that I haven't been taking the morning time to give thanks for my life and all it's intricacies. It's simply a matter of waking up the following morning and going for my gratitude walk to set me on the right head-space...
And these days, it's like turning on a light switch. The difference between being grateful and forgetting to give thanks is like the difference for me between night and day. I often don't miss it because the real-life benefits, from the way I think about my future to the way I treat my fiancée, can be completely changed depending on whether or not I gave thanks that morning.
A Challenge For You:
For the next 5 days, I want to challenge you to spend just 5 minutes in your morning, before you start the grind of your day, to give thanks for things in your life. The longer, the better, but even in 5 minutes, you'll find that your spirits are lifted, your self-value is heightened, and the world around you just seems more beautiful.
I'm thankful for each of you who read this blog. I hope this exercise is something that gives you as much as it gives me.
What are you grateful for? Let me know in the comments below!
A PRO-PHOTOGRAPHER'S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE:
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I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.