17 Jan 7 Things I’ve Learned from My Year of Gratitude Photos
I talk about gratitude a lot these days. It’s a powerful tool used in many schools of thought (Positive Psychology, religions, self development, etc) and it’s changed my life for the better.
Gratitude exercises improve well-being through the development of a greater sense of appreciation, broaden mental flexibility, improve memory and help solve problems which require more complex cognitive processes.
But an even greater impact is that my quality of life has improved. By focusing on what I have to be grateful for, my happiness, contentment and general satisfaction has skyrocketed.
The idea of being grateful seems so simple that it can be easy to underestimate the impact it can have. However, with a consistent gratitude practice the results can be transformational. They have been for me.
Last year I was struggling with some personal and professional challenges and talked to a few people in the same situation. I remember listening to their stories, many FAR more challenging than my own. It shifted my perspective, I started thinking about how lucky I was.
The impact was profound. Just moments before I was feeling sorry for myself, and then with a small change in perspective, my body felt different, my energy felt different, I felt different. And nothing else had changed.
I knew that gratitude could be important, but I also knew that I needed at least one concrete tool to harness its power. After all, a concept without action isn’t very useful. I decided that I would practice being grateful by posting a photo to Instagram every day for a year, as both a commitment and an experiment. 10 months in, here are 10 lessons I’ve learned so far:
1. Over Time Gratitude Becomes an Unconscious Habit
If you had told me that posting a photo every day would give the resilience, strength and positivity to get through my mother’s illness and death without being emotionally crippled, I would have laughed at you.
But that’s exactly what happened. The experience of her diagnosis, decline and death became a gift to me. But I really don’t think that would have been the case if I hadn’t already put in 6 months of daily gratitude ‘work’.
Those daily posts rewired my brain. I didn’t even know it was happening until I got into a situation that was so grim and dark. The daily practice trained me to see the good in every situation, I didn’t even have to think about it. It was as though I’d put a filter on my perceptions – I was viewing life through the lens of gratitude. I was grateful for my career that gave me the ability to spend that time with my family. I was grateful that my Mom was pain free. I was grateful that my whole family could gather together and care for each other and Mom.
It’s this ‘gratitude filter’ that has become so valuable to me. It’s not that I no longer have a hard time – we all do. It’s that I see those hard times are also full of good stuff, if only I can slow down to see it.
2. My Consumption Has Gone Down Radically
Gratitude focuses me on all the things I already have which makes me feel like I have more than enough. As a result, I’ve stopped feeling like I “need” things. In fact, I’ve found myself purging my house and office of the stuff that I’ve realized that I don’t use or need anymore.
When I’m considering purchases, I’ve found myself asking, ‘do I need this or do I want this?’ If I just want it, I know that feeling will soon pass. In a world crippled by unbridled consumerism, I’m happy to reduce my impact.
I also am valuing time with people more than things, this has strengthened my relationships, which leads into the next point…
3. I’m Happier in All of My Relationships
Seeing the good in the people around me has improved my relationships. When you look for the good in people, you are more likely to see and acknowledge their strengths, passions and celebrate their successes, all which are foundations for positive relationships.
At first when someone around me annoyed me or did something I didn’t like, it would take a conscious effort to remain positive and grateful. Through practice (much like strengthening a muscle), I’m now more easily able to see the good in people and situations. There were times when I need to consciously think about it, but it’s now easier to stay in that frame of mind.
4. I Was Committed Because I Kept it Simple
This whole gratitude practice isn’t always easy. There are days I don’t want to do it. Those are the days I need to do it the most.
It’s easy to be grateful on Saturday morning when you’re eating waffles but not as much when you are faced with that cranky coworker on Monday morning.
We all face challenges, the key is to keep going, despite the challenges. Because I picked something simple – posting a photo – it was easy enough for me to do every day. It’s pretty hard for me to make excuses strong enough to stop me from doing something that is so easy.
5. I’m Often Surprised What I Come Up With to Be Grateful For
While I was in Europe for a conference, I got to travel to Belgium for the day to get chocolate, something that was really easy to be grateful for. Last week, I was grateful for finding mushrooms in the woods. Even little things can be the target for gratitude – the way raindrops gather on a leaf, a funny street sign or dinner with friends.
Training your brain to be grateful helps you to be present and more aware of the world around you. You are more likely to experience awe, be generous and empathic because you are valuing both the big and the small things in life.
6. Documenting it Locks it Into Your Brain
There is value in thinking about being grateful. There is more value in habitually documenting your gratitude. Because I know I have to post a photo sometime in my day, I think about it all the time and I’m constantly looking for good things.
I’ve found that when I notice something good and take a photo of it, I am much more present. Rather than having something either escape my notice, or just go straight in and out of my mind to be forgotten, documenting helps me remember it.
7. The Right Tools Made it Easy
I have an alarm set on my phone for 3pm. If I haven’t posted by then, I know to focus my attention. My alarm will snooze every half an hour to make sure that I don’t forget it. Without the alarm, I might have missed days.
I chose posting to Instagram as a tool because it taps into a number of my interests and motivators. My previous life was in photography, I went to university and even taught at the college level. So for me, photography is an easy tool because I always have my phone in my pocket. When it’s easy, I’m more likely to do it. Also, I rather like having an audience (imagine that!) Since my gratitude practice is on social media, I get instant feedback and approval, which, as a performer, is something that motivates me.
I chose Instagram because it’s public so it would help me be accountable. It’s self imposed accountability – no one actually expects it, but I’m motivated by people seeing what I’m doing.
Join Me in Being Grateful
I’d love to hear what you are grateful for. If you are feeling inspired, join me on Instagram. Simply post a photo of something you are grateful for and be sure to tag me at @dantrommater. You can also follow along using #my2016theme.