Fit for Gratitude

IMG_1008In recent months I have become more aware of how important gratitude is in my life, mostly because of its unique power to dramatically affect my level of happiness.

I started thinking more about happiness when I found Shawn Achor. Thanks to his studies at Harvard, and his book The Happiness Advantage, I’ve been focusing more on practices and habits that are designed specifically to produce happiness, rather than those of the converse effect. One example of this is my choice to stop reading the news for a few months. Between Trump & Hillary, police officers shooting civilians (and visa versa), and all of the other “bad news,” I had to realize that the news was draining my happiness each day and, like gravity, it was pulling the corners of my mouth down. Maybe it doesn’t do that to you, but it does to me. (link: Shawn Achor TED Talk)

I definitely do not promote being aloof or naive about what is going on in the world. Quite the opposite. Undoubtedly, individuals who understand the world, current events, and politics are more likely to be wiser, better citizens and consumers, and more responsible in general. In fact, I could argue that we have a social responsibility to be aware of what is happening in the world.

However, it is critical to know what is the right dose of news to consume. Too little and you live under a rock. Too much and you will be unhappyThomas Jefferson said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Don’t believe the claim that consuming news leads to less happiness? Read Shawn Achor’s book and case studies. For me, I had to go cold turkey (zero news) and take my happiness back. 

In addition, there are other habits I am working on. The one that seems bulletproof, so far, is expressing gratitude during bad times. I believe that there is no trick, habit, or action we can take that empowers the mind to feel happy more than the act of expressing gratitude during hardship. It is in bad times when gratitude is most important.

Here are some mantras I’ve been teaching myself:

When you are afraid, be grateful.
When you have anxiety, be grateful.
When you are angry, be grateful. 

You might ask yourself, how can I possibly be grateful during those times? Brother David Steindl-Rast said, “In daily life, we must see it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Thus, we have power over our emotions and one way of controlling them is through the vantage of gratefulness. (Link: Brother David TED Talk)

The truth is, it is impossible to experience feelings of fear, anger, and anxiety while exhibiting thankfulness and gratitude. The two emotions, negativity and gratitude are antithetical. As author and public speaker Tony Robbins says, “The antidote to fear is gratitude. The antidote to anger is gratitude. You can’t feel fear or anger while feeling gratitude at the same time.” It’s a phenomenon!

At first, I began applying this to the basics of life, work, relationships, finances, etc. But then, I even began thinking, how can I apply this to health and fitness? As odd as it sounds, I took up gratitude during weight training and endurance training… For example, on the last couple of reps squatting or deadlifting, I think about how thankful I am for something like my breath, my wife, my home, the trees, wind, or friends with great senses of humor. Whatever comes to mind. And, on my last set of sprints or box jumps, I say a “thanks” for my family, safety, opportunity, the sun, good coworkers, or even clean water. What I have found is that expressing gratitude at a moment of physical anguish and exhaustion has given me extra energy and helped me to burst through and find a repository of strength and endurance that I may not have otherwise found. Now I am waiting for Sports Science to do an episode on this.

Maybe you won’t find yourself deadlifting and thanking God for the clouds, but my point is that true gratitude has the power to change your psychology and your physiology. Gratitude has changed my mind and my body. It can change yours too if you will practice it.

Melody Beattie, a fellow St. Paul native, said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” (Side note: Melody went to the same high school as my mom. I had to include her here!)

Gratitude will not only change your mood from unhappy to happy, but it will change you.

What could gratitude turn you into? What are you thankful for?

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