With thanksgiving just passed, it seems appropriate to bring up the topic of gratitude. Whilst I haven’t traditionally celebrated Thanksgiving, I've had the pleasure of joining friends at their Thanksgiving celebrations in recent years and was touched by the sentiment of the holiday. Whilst the food was fantastic it was the moment we went around the table and said what we were grateful for that really stayed with me; I was heartened by all the lovely details that my friends chose to focus on. Each were experiencing their own challenges in life, but able to see the silver lining. Some even described their struggles and gave thanks for the resulting learning curve, which was very humbling!
More recently though, this practice has taken on new meaning, and become such an integral part of my own life, that I also regularly recommend it to clients, and not just for Thanksgiving! Whilst practising gratitude at Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition, the act of expressing gratitude on a daily basis can be a truly transformational journey.
In short, gratitude is all about expressing appreciation for what you already have, rather than what you want or desire. Sometimes gratitude comes naturally, but at other times it is harder to muster. Like when you’ve just heard that you didn’t get that audition you really wanted, or when you’ve been struggling for weeks to master a new technique with nothing to show for it. The good news is that gratitude can be deliberately cultivated, and the more time you take to practise gratitude, the more likely you are to find yourself experiencing it in the future.
Why is this relevant to performers? Striving for lofty goals always brings struggles, hard times and challenges. Recent research indicates that gratitude can increase our happiness and well-being, reduce anxiety and depression, strengthens the immune system and helps us sleep better, but it can also help us to cope with tough times. When we are experiencing challenges in our lives, we tend to think more about the bad things that happen to us than the good things.; we pay more attention to what is missing in our lives, than everything we have already. Gratitude helps to even the playing field, and recognise that it's not all bad. The more we choose to focus on what we’re grateful for, the more we notice what we would have otherwise missed. In doing so gratitude builds resilience, which is an essential quality for any successful performer
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
As Robert Emmon, a leading researcher of gratitude, explains, gratitude works on two important levels: firstly by affirming the goodness in the world, and secondly by helping us to recognise that the source of this goodness is outside of ourselves. This external focus is essential for happiness and well-being.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero