“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault
It’s certainly true for me – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. In the past, I rarely appreciated what I had. I always thought the grass was greener elsewhere and focused on the oyster instead of the pearl. I never stopped to think about what was good…to practise gratitude. Gratitude brightens your mood instantly yet we don’t often stop to appreciate the good stuff. We wallow in worry/self-pity and I have never understood how that serves us. I think it’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Why we focus on the negatives
Evolutionary psychologists say it’s because we are wired for threat detection. It was part of our ‘survival tool kit’ when we were prancing around long-haired and with beards (yes, that includes some of the women!). We were constantly looking out for what wasn’t right (did that bush just move?) rather than taking the time to notice the sunshine. If your threat radar wasn’t on the ball, you could end up as dinner. In modern times, we don’t need to worry so much about being prey. We have pretty much mastered the world in terms of the food chain. Yet, our ‘old wiring’ still keeps us focused on threat. Of course, we still need to be aware of our surroundings but our brains mistake modern anxiety for life-and-death situations.
Our old brain – the amygdala and hypothalamus
That deadline you are stressing about isn’t going to be the end of you (I guess some would beg to differ). Our amygdala and hypothalamus, however, interpret the chemical reactions of our stressed-out perceptions as deadly. Hence, you still get the sweaty palms, the racing heart, and the knot in your stomach. When you learn to tell yourselves that it’s only anxiety (and we aren’t really in mortal danger), your stress levels reduce significantly. This is why deep breathing is useful because it confuses our old brain. It’s a conflicting message that isn’t in line with the fear message and this calms us rapidly.
Gratitude and complacency
Anyway, I digress. Back to gratitude and not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone. We’re all guilty of complacency. Too much of a good thing feels quite comfortable and this takes your focus onto other things. If you’re anything like me, you tend to focus on the next issue or problem rather than taking the time to focus on the little things that you appreciate in your life. Gratitude is an attitude that promotes power and confidence. It also helps you feel content and more at peace with what you do have. There is a saying that the happiest people are those who appreciate what they have. So why do many of us constantly compare and believe we would be happier if only we were slimmer, richer, or had a loving relationship? We see this all the time on Facebook. people brag on Facebook but often it’s just because they want others to think highly of them.
How to practise gratitude
Initially, schedule time to practise gratitude until it becomes a habit. A habit takes about one month to become automatic so you may have to actively think about gratitude for around 30 days. Some clients enjoy buying a journal where they write their appreciation of daily events. You don’t only have to write about current happenings but you can also jot down gratitude for something that happened in the past.
For example, perhaps you are grateful for going to that party years ago because that’s where you met your partner. Or you could be appreciative of a small gift in your house that reminds you of the good friend that gave it to you. Focusing on the good things in your life increases oxytocin ( a feel-good hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and is released into the blood when these cells are excited). What’s not to like?
When your partner irritates you, remind yourself of when they are loving and considerate. If you can’t think of any examples, maybe they need the boot!
Life can have a happier tone to it when you focus on what is going well instead of only focusing on what isn’t working well.
Appreciation for the little things
Often, the things we most value are the small things, like sharing a joke with a friend or getting a hug from your children. Happiness is never consistent. It exists as a fleeting moment of appreciation. Almost like a slightly distanced view of what just went on. When I tune in to what is good around me, I notice so many more things – the birds singing (yes, I know it sounds cheesy), watching a woman playing fetch with her dog, seeing a funny animal video on Instagram ( always makes me smile). Life is made up of those small moments and the more you notice them the better your quality of life will be.
Focus on what’s going well
We all know there’s enough misery to go around, so it pays to get into the habit of tuning into the fun stuff. When you do this, you will also learn more about yourself. You will understand what brings you pleasure. If you live with a negative mental filter, you’ll most likely end up a bitter and unhappy person. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the negatives and end up one of those people that don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.