This term at Brauer and Warrnambool Colleges our Big Life focus is on gratitude. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Being deliberately grateful forces us to notice the positive things happening in our lives, no matter how small. When we try to tune in to these positives, it becomes clear that there are many wonderful people, places and things in our lives that normally go unnoticed. Instead, we often tune into the annoying, unfortunate, frustrating and tragic side of life, and it can seem impossible to turn our mood around once these negative emotions take over.
In May, 400 local parents, young people, teachers and sportspeople filled the Warrnambool Wannon Rooms to listen to Hugh Van Cuylenburg from The Resilience Project talk about practical strategies to build resilience. Hugh spoke about how practicing daily gratitude can improve our mental health in as little as 21 days. While hearing about Hugh’s experiences working in a poverty-stricken school in India, I was reminded of how little happiness has to do with material possessions. The students in Hugh’s stories had absolutely nothing when compared with my privileged upbringing in Australia. Nevertheless, they were happy, helpful, empathetic, and most of all, grateful.
As part of my personal challenge to be more grateful, I decided to make a list of some very simple things we often take for granted. When we step back and look at our lives, do we really know how lucky we are? And if so, what are we doing to show it?
5 Things We Take for Granted
1. Running water
Today, 1 in 10 people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. 1 in 3 people don’t have access to a toilet. For 663 million people, their water could make them sick, but ours doesn’t. Our glorious taps provide us with clean water– hot, cold and in between, whatever we want, whenever we want. Simple, seemingly ordinary, yet amazing.
2. Waste collection
Have you ever complained about taking the rubbish or the bins out? I do it all the time. The other day, while reluctantly wheeling the bin down the driveway, I stopped, and thought about it, and laughed at myself. I live in a part of the world where I get to make as much rubbish as I want, and my empty packets, my junk, my mess, all gets wheeled down the driveway and taken away by a magic truck, never to be seen again. What’s more, I can even fill up the recycling with bottles and cardboard and know that someone else is going to do something useful with it. So why am I complaining?
3. Electricity & Technology
If I want to find out how many people in the world have access to electricity, what do I do? Pull out my phone, iPad or laptop and type it into Google. Turns out it’s about 17% of the global population who don’t have this luxury. Every day, most of us use technology that we take for granted: lights, power points, phones, cars, the internet, television, PlayStation, coffee machines, heaters. If we’re lucky, we’ll even get to fly through the air to faraway places on a giant bird machine! Pretty incredible, huh? Still gets me every time.
Here are some weird and wonderful things I can get from my local supermarket:
Medicine, shoelaces, hot chickens, mobile phones, pool cleaner, seasonal fruit and vegetables all year round, gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, low fat, low salt, low taste, anything we want, 12-15 hours a day, 7 days a week. I can even rush out in my PJ’s and slippers late at night when I’ve forgotten to get milk and bread for the next day. For that, I am truly grateful.
61 million children in the world do not have access to education. Many parents and teachers would have cited this sad reality while bemoaning the ingratitude of young people, at home or at school. I know that personally, as a child, I had limited appreciation of the educational opportunities I received. But do we create environments that encourage young people to be grateful? And are we teaching young people how to be grateful by modelling acts of gratitude ourselves?
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, and I would never tell anybody that the negatives in their lives aren’t real. We all have serious stresses and worries, and no-one is expected to be a buzzing ball of energy who is happy all the time –that’s just not realistic. The purpose of gratitude is to remind us all that along with the negative, there is always positive – even when it is sometimes difficult to find.
A study by the University of Massachusetts found that people who practice gratitude can actually rewire their brains to look for the positive. That is, if you focus on what went well each day and what you are thankful for, then you’ll find that you actually start looking for the things that are going right, rather than the things that are going wrong.
Practicing gratitude every day can make you:
- More optimistic
- Have more energy
- Less likely to get sick
- Have a better quality sleep
- Experience less anxiety and depression
So I challenge you today to try and look for something positive. Maybe it will be eating the delicious leftovers you brought for lunch. Maybe it will be some positive encouragement from a family member, or as simple as a roof over your head. Or maybe you’ll find 5 bucks at the bottom of your bag, or get your favourite seat on the bus home. Whatever it is, and however big or small, the first step is to notice it.