For as long as I can remember people have always asked me “are you reeeally that happy? Or are you hiding something?”
I always found this question a bit disappointing, as it almost assumes that nobody is naturally, innately joyful about being alive. But 100% truth? I really am this joyful to be alive. I really am this excited and energized and enthusiastic about it all! About people and places and things, about my own personal life, and the way I view living. And I’m going to share with you why and how I developed this habit.
It’s a little thing called
No matter how dire our present situation may be, there is always a silver lining – even if you aren’t aware of it yet. There is always something in our surroundings, circumstance or presence that we can be consciously appreciative of. The rain falling down on the trees – feeding and reenergizing the planet and thus giving us oxygen to breathe. Our heartbeat steadily pumping, allowing us to live another day on this miraculous oasis in space. (seriously – how magical is it that we get to live on this blue planet?!) We are here. We are a l i v e.
Growing up I’ve always been naturally optimistic and positive, but I had a lot of childhood trauma (that I intentionally choose to keep private and not on the internet) growing up that could have hindered my growth and the person I am now. Having awareness for those situations and people, accepting what was, and knowing that there was always a incandescenent something just around the corner kept me going through those hard experiences. But habitually noticing the good parts of my life led to my becoming. It led me to be the joyful adult I am now. Truth be told, I didn’t even know that expressing gratitude was a thing until my early twenties, but looking back at what I thought and wrote about in my old journals as a kid, I always wrote about the things that I was so appreciative of and thankful for in my life. I didn’t complain or wallow or get stuck in an endless cycle of self-pity. I was appreciative of what was, and I knew something was coming – something wonderful. It was a habit that was developed over many years, completely unintentionally. And this little habit is something you can practice and take on, as well.
Here are a few ways you can get started on expressing gratidude. Watch how this subtle change can transform your way of thinking, feeling and ultimately – your life itself.
To increase your appreciation and all the good vibes that come with appreciating what you already have, get super specific. Shawn Achor writes in The Happiness Advantage that gratitude lists may be less effective is because we often write the same general things over and over again. For example, “I am grateful for my house….partner….friends….this chair….my cute shoes….etc” Instead, go into the details of what it is about your house that makes you feel grateful today ie “I love the natural golden light this evening and how the fresh air sweeps freely into the living room” or “I am grateful my partner and I have a similar sense of humor, and are always falling into a fit of gigges before falling asleep.” Noticing the details of what brings you joy and then habitually noticing those little things that make your heart swell up helps bring daily happiness.
Tell yourself “I am grateful for this _____ because…” and dig into the reasons why these particular things make you feel the way you do. Feelings override all. When you ask yourself why something brings you peace, contentment and/or joy, you’ll open up a world of self-awareness and positive vibes.
Practicing gratitude every once in a while or only when good things are coming into your life won’t make any difference in your overall long-term happiness. Life events and circumstances can take us on a rollercoaster of emotions, often when we are not even consciously thinking about how we react or feel. In order to be intentional, deliberate and in control of our personal happiness, we have to make a brand new habit. Set a few alarms on your phone and set aside 2-4 minutes to write down or say aloud what you are grateful for in your present circumstance. Put a journal next to your bed so the first thing you do upon waking is getting into that appreciative mindset. Or do it before drifting off to sleep, when you subconscious takes over your dreams.
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, get your butt outside and take a walk! This is my favorite go-to action to lift my spirits: I grab some uplifting music (often classical) and go on a walk, paying careful attention to my breath as it expands and releases. I pay attention to the way my body feels as it moves. Once I’ve calmed down and relaxed, I begin slowly noticing the things around me that I appreciate having close by: the textures of that tree bark, the bird singing overhead, the sound of the wind in the leaves, my footsteps – knowing that I have the ability (and freedom!) to walk and play outside. I then start moving my thoughts toward things in my life that I’m grateful for, going in detail of joyful past memories, sounds, images, and present situations I am appreciate to have.
I hope these tips may help you on your life journey. While people who are naturally optimistic and often see the glass half-full will have an easier leg up on gratitude, that doesn’t mean a habit can’t be built. They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, so take notice of your thoughts of appreciation. I’m a big believer in the idea that our thoughts can affect our reality. Thoughts lead to beliefs which lead to how we feel. And how we feel, I believe, impacts our present and future.
Have a wonderful weekend, friends!
I’d love to hear how this challenge has helped you! Comment below letting me know if you’ve taken some of these tips and applied them in your own life! Has it helped you at all? If you practice expressing gratitude already, what do you find helps you?
2016 - 2019 Helena Woods | Helena Woods Portraiture is located outside New York City in Fairfield County Connecticut and travels worldwide for her clients. Helena Woods is New England and Connecticut’s premier family, children, baby and newborn photographer specializing in modern classic custom family photography with a timeless look that's always in style. As a professional photographer, Helena captures maternity, newborn, baby and family portraits in NYC, Westchester, Trumbull, Easton, Weston, and Westport, Greenwich, Darien, Westport, Norfolk and all Fairfield County surrounding areas.