Start a daily practice of gratitude in life

Published 9:00 am Sunday, January 1, 2017

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.

This year has been especially stressful.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

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Sometimes when we’re in a stressful state, we don’t always have time to examine the causes, which can create even more stress because we don’t know why we might be losing sleep, eating unhealthy foods or being especially irritable with others.

I’ve been there this year — in a constant state of stress.

There have been a few brief reprieves to recognize that our office went through staffing changes at a critical time, I had a baby and was gone on maternity leave for a while, our office moved, there have been many local programmatic changes, the floods threw everything for a loop, there has been constant sickness in our house (and many others), changes in the United Way system, and there have been challenging situations in our nation and world that created significant uncertainty.

It’s definitely been a growth year.

Everyone I’ve talked to this past week has one wish for 2017 — that things slow down and there is a sense of normalcy.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

When I was at a point of burnout earlier this month, I contacted a friend and former United Way director. She knows what it is like to live in the world that I do and offers great wisdom.

At times we have had long conversations about the future and what the role of nonprofits can be in shaping our communities. This time she kept it simple — and said the best thing I can do is practice gratitude on a daily basis.

I am a worst-case scenario kind of person. When things start to go south, I think about everything that can possibly go wrong. In some ways this assuages my anxiety about life — because I have a plan. But I am the first to admit it’s not the healthiest place to remain.

My friend sent me a tool — because apparently she knows I need a step-by-step guide for the practice of daily gratitude. It’s called “Three Good Things” and is based on the science of how our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative, but if we switch that focus to a daily practice of gratitude, our brains will be re-wired.

There is hope!

And there is a great website with more information and the step-by-step guide:

For easy reference, here is the basic concept (off the site):

• It takes approximately 10 minutes a day, for at least a week (ideally 14 days and beyond)

• Make the effort part of your daily routine (so you won’t forget)

• You can use a gratitude journal, post on social media or even write on a napkin in a coffee shop. It doesn’t matter — but you must write down three things that went well each day and provide an explanation for why they went well.

• Give the event a title, write down what happened in detail, include how the event made you feel and explain what you think caused the event

• If you start to focus on negative feelings, refocus your mind to the positive event

• Dig deep — don’t be afraid to uncover emotions that you’ve buried — this is part of the process and part of re-wiring your brain and perspective of the world

It might not seem like much, but a daily practice of gratitude can improve our ability to cope with the challenges of life. As we become happier, we can affect the lives of people around us and, in turn, create a better world. Wishing you a joyful and gratitude-filled 2017!