I’m not a morning person. I know some people spring out of bed at 6 a.m. raring to go, but I’m not one of them. I’m the type who slowly emerges from the fog of my dreamworld only to feel apprehensive and a little skeptical about what awaits me in the day ahead.
But that gets old, and increasingly, I’m realizing, it’s a choice. So lately, when I awaken reluctantly and feel the anxiety start to move in, I’ve been choosing another path: gratitude. I know it sounds trite – ‘count your blessings’ and all that – but it’s really true that focusing on what you’re grateful for makes you feel better. It’s scientifically proven. Really.
According to this Harvard Medical School publication, for example, gratitude “helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” In one study cited, for example, psychologists asked participants to write a few sentences each week. The first group was asked to write about things they were grateful for that had happened that week. The second group wrote about things that irritated or bothered them, and the third wrote about events that affected them, but without emphasizing whether they were good or bad. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude all felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and made fewer doctor’s visits than those who focused on irritations.
If it helps once a week then it’s probably even better once a day, so I’m trying to do gratitude as a daily practice, at least on days when I wake up feeling lousy. This morning, for example, when I woke up cranky, I started thinking about what I was thankful for, over my cup of coffee. It was a slow start, but as I enumerated my gratitude for the coffee, my partner who brought it to me in bed and the sunny spring day outside, I was able to get myself out of bed and put on my running clothes. When I got outside, my gratitude practice really started to kick in – combined with sunshine and endorphins and it’s doubly effective.
By the time I got to Prospect Park, I was pretty much ecstatic: I was grateful for the sun, the sound of the birds, the magnolia blossoms, and the fact that I can physically run at all. I was grateful I have a job that allows me the flexibility to go running in the morning, and for all the other people out there running with me, who kept me company and motivated me to keep going. This was a lot of positive feeling crammed into just one hour, and all before 9:00 a.m.
Of course, the high from a good run and counting your blessings doesn’t last forever. By 3:00 p.m., my allergies had kicked in and I was tired, and all the bad news in the world and in U.S. politics, which I follow for my work, was bringing me down.
Time to re-start my practice: this time I was grateful I could turn it all off for a few minutes and take a nap — and for my tempestuous little dog snoring soundly beside me.