We are all grieving. We are grieving the loss of our freedom, our social life and our life before 2020 Pandemic. In this time, Inner peace or the calmness of mind is the super power we all need. Between home office, lockdowns and disruption of our travel plans, we all need to stay calm and live our life without ever going on a Rampage. Inner peace is wonderful to have but how do we achieve it ?
Before we explore the actions, which take us towards inner peace, we should be aware of the other emotions, which may appear before us.
Understanding our emotions
“In order to find the new world we needed a map, and in order for us to find a calm mind we need a map of our emotions”.Dalai Lama
Paul Eckman, a Psychologist and leading researcher on emotions, developed a catalogue of emotions and in 2016 launched a beautiful website by the same name – http://atlasofemotions.org/ . It guides you through the jungle of emotions by categorising them in 5 major groups – Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust and Enjoyment. Then he presents all other related emotions in each group on a scale of low to high intensity. Further, he suggests what action do we take when we feel them and what can be the counter measures for each. It is quite a lovely use of infographics and I suggest you visit it for getting an overview of the range of emotions we feel.
On this website, in the group “Enjoyment”, one can find “Peace” in middle of the scale of low to high excitement. It is neither as basic as a sensory pleasure nor as exciting as Ecstasy. It is in balance and that is what we want to aim as our default mode of living in daily life.
This catalogue serves as a guide for what actions do we take when we feel certain emotions but it does not guide us on how do we achieve one of them, let us say, the emotion of peace. Of course, the website leads you to more websites where you can do some courses on managing your emotions to help you “Cultivate Emotional Balance”, but we are not going anywhere, are we? We are looking for something that we can do from the comfort of our beds, without changing the pyjamas.
So, How does Gratitude help us achieve this inner peace ?
What is Gratitude ?
Gratitude is an Action and not an emotion. Simply put, It is any act of thanking someone for their contribution in your life. Let us explore the key words here.
- act of thanking: being grateful, thanking someone in person or even thinking about it, or thanking the right conditions and timing for your actions.
- their contribution: acknowledging that someone else helped you along the way, physically, emotionally, financially or in any other way.
- your life: your life story is written by your actions but what or who lead you to those actions, are also important. When you look back on your life from present, you should be able to recognise those faces.
Thinking of Gratitude as an action makes it a tool, something that you can use to build or fix something. and Gratitude is a multipurpose tool because it can help us in many ways.
Why is Gratitude good for me ?
Gratitude for us is like drinking water. You can go on with your day without drinking more than 2 glasses of water but in the long run, it is going to cause you metabolism problems. Also, if you drink too much water, you will take above average toilet breaks and in extreme cases can even drink yourself to death. Seriously. Check this out if your don’t believe me https://www.healthline.com/health/how-much-water-can-kill-you
Similarly, Gratitude is required in the right amount. Too little will cause you attitude problems and too much will wear you out. So, in between the two extremes, of being a ungrateful waste of humanity to being everyone’s punching bag, there is a sweet spot, where you can exist and have all the benefits of using Gratitude without feeling the burnout.
To the more curious, here are some benefits of Gratitude in your life:
Long Term Happiness
If you want happiness to last for more than a few moments, you need to have some control over how to generate it on demand. And I am not talking about the thrills generated by the Dopamine rush, which we get while seeking pleasure. Like when we are eating Ice cream. I am talking about the happiness, by courtesy of Serotonin, which you get when you think about the feeling of eating that Ice cream on a perfect sunny Saturday. But as eating Ice cream is limited to some perfect days and is enjoyable to think about certain number of times, we need something more perineal and deep. Hence, Gratitude. When we express Gratitude to someone or something, we generate a long lasting and replicable feeling of joy and happiness.
No matter what you have achieved in life or what you have done for others, to brag about it is like baking a beautiful muffin and licking it all over before giving it to someone. Yukk, right. It is still beautiful but no one other than a complete sucker for you would like it. And how can you be more humble ? Yes, by expressing Gratitude. Even if you generated a billion dollar empire on your own, without any mortal’s help, you can still thank your customers for putting their money in your pocket when they could have gone to your nearest competitor. They did you a favour by choosing you, not the other way around. On the other hand, if you are earning a living by doing a job, you have tons to be grateful for, starting with your parents who raised you to the partner who puts up with your weirdness to the kind lady at the supermarket who said “good day” to you even when she was tired from her day’s work.
Genuine good behaviour
If you are thinking that are you a decent human being or not, I have god news for you. You already are or are at least starting to be. And just to make sure you are, include Gratitude in your ever expanding arsenal of good actions. Gratitude is such a strong key habit that it will shape your perspective and in turn, will help you make your thoughts positive. Remember, it always starts with one small step. Just one good thought a day will move mountains of negative emotions in some time.
Solution to Anger/Jealousy
Holding anger or Jealousy in your heart against someone is like holding a burning piece of coal in your hand and thinking, that it is harming your enemy. Just like that burning coal, Jealousy will just harm you. And it is easy to hold on to it because you are hurt and you want revenge. You want closure, which we sometimes do not get. You are not alone in feeling that. Also, there are different degrees of this anger. Anger towards your boss for unnecessarily yelling at you is not the same as the anger towards someone who took enjoyment in tormenting you in school or someone who harmed your family member. It requires different degree of effort to overcome such emotions. But it is a good start nevertheless to find something in this situation to be thankful for.
If you express Gratitude towards your team members, you automatically open yourself to their ideas. You become more collaborative and appreciate each other in a group environment, which in turn, will boost the productivity of your whole team.
Sense of Purpose
For many, Gratitude is a way of life. They devote their life to help others because they feel such strong need to express gratitude that it overtakes their whole existence and guides them to help others. Their work becomes an extension to their act of expressing Gratitude. Even if that person is not you, you can still include Gratitude in your daily regime to remind you that there are people other than you and you have responsibility to serve your fellow humans.
Knowledge of limits to self
Can you do anything and everything ? If yes, how dare you not help all those in need right now? Hopefully, you said no. See, sometimes, we forget our limits and make mistakes. For example, it will be a mistake to buy a new iphone on credit because, 1 – you would have lesser to pay when you pay upfront, 2 – you would be under a debt for 1-2 years. Similarly, when you do not have any idea about what you cannot do or can do, you sometimes make mistakes such as trying to raise a child without ever reading any parenting books, or trying to take an exam without studying. You should be thanking those parents who have been though life and want to share their experience for your betterment.
And as it takes time and mistakes to learn to use any tool, it takes time and patience to learn to use Gratitude.
How to show Gratitude ?
Expressing Gratitude is a three step process.
- Step 1: Recognise that something in your life is good.
- Step 2: Recognise that the reason for that goodness is not just you but someone or something other than you.
- Step 3: Thanking them in person or in your thoughts.
Let us see an example for this. I am sitting in my comfortable writing chair, writing this piece. This is step one. I realise that this is good. Next step is to recognise that to have this time to write, I must have some free time, which would not be possible if my wife and daughter did not realise that I need this time alone to write. So, the reason for this good, me having the time to write, is not just my decision to write it but my family’s understanding. And the last step, Thanking them. I just did, with a hug for both. Gratitude all over the place.
How to avoid burnout from Gratitude?
Set a minimum
Thank at least one person or one situation per day that has helped you to become the person you are today. It can be someone in the past or some one you met today who generated a feeling of thankfulness in you. Thank them in your thoughts.
Set a maximum
This is more important to avoid the burnout because if you go on to thank everyone you want to thank in person, you will have to spend a lot of time finding the right moment to say that to them and it requires much more courage to say thank you to their face than in your head. So, use this rule instead – say Thank you to your partner and children daily, Say thank to your parents once every week, say thank you to your friends twice a year, say thank you to your relatives once a year and thank strangers or new acquaintances once your lifetime.
Or make your own rules. But make an upper limit to the thanks you give in person as per your interactions to sound sincere and not flattery.
A parting word
Thank you for reading this till the end. I hope you find peace in your life and start your day with a new outlook.
Till next time.