Strangers and friends have been helping me with their time and advice, inspiring me and gently pushing me to make the most of my talents. My goddaughter has been a bundle of joy, always making me laugh and appreciate our special relationship. I have stopped blaming post viral fatigue for wrecking my life. Instead, I have come to think of it as an important life event, which made me discover myself and look at what I have with gratitude.
Gratitude has become a bit of a buzzword and with good reason. Too many tragedies happened in the world this year, broadcasting the message: "Life is too short - make the most of it." At the same time, ebola sufferers and desperate refugees surely must help us realise how fortunate we are to have health and homes. In the age where everything - fashion, headlines, new technologies - move so fast, people are beginning to notice the wear and tear. Mental health problems are on the rise. We are too anxious, busy and stressed out to notice how beautiful the world is, unless it's been posted on Instagram. Health and well-being gurus encourage us to practise gratitude to raise self-awareness and happiness.
The gratitude effect has been scientifically proven to enhance well-being. It encourages us to "count our blessings" we tend to forget, once we get used to them. "Everyone has something to be happy about. Perhaps they have a loving partner, good health, great kids, a satisfying job, close friends, interesting hobbies, caring parents, a roof over their heads, clean water to drink, a signed Billy Joel album, or enough food to eat," writes Professor Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds. "However, as time passes, they get used to what they have and, just like the smell of fresh bread, these wonderful assets vanish from their mind."
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough conducted an experiment, investigating gratitude and subjective well-being (2003). Three groups of people were asked to spend a few moments each week writing. The first group listed five things for which they were grateful, the second noted down five things that annoyed them and the final group jotted down five events that had taken place during the previous week. The 'gratitude' group remarked on seeing the sunset or on the generosity of their friends. The 'annoyed' group wrote about bills and arguments. The 'events' group detailed making breakfast and driving to work. The results were startling. Compared to those in either the 'annoyed' or 'events' groups, those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more.
Similarly, research by Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) suggests that writing a gratitude diary every day for a week makes one happier and more resilient with the effects which may persist for months.
I was intrigued by this and began writing my own gratutude diary in May. Every day I wrote down three simple things I was grateful for: sunny spells, a good chat with a friend and finding time to meditate. I have not been perfectly consistent over the last six months, but flicking through my diary now makes me smile. The last six months have been kind to me, and I am grateful. I could be healthier, fitter and luckier, but, in truth, I've had a wonderful year with so much to be proud of and pleased about. Writing the blessings down is simple, and the effects are surprisingly powerful.
If a gratitude diary isn't your thing, how about some Christmas cards? It's the season to be grateful.