28-04-2020

I don't know about you, but the weekends are actually the hardest bit of lockdown. B.L. (Before Lockdown) I would have been busy on Saturdays, taking my teenager to her activities, doing my own, going to CrossFit Mallorca in Son Bugadelles, doing some work, going to the supermarket, and then rolling back home in the evening with a bag of everything and a bottle of wine or two. Sundays would have been more mum taxi duties, a decent dog walk with my furry friends, Sunday lunch somewhere then back home to watch a movie with my family. Simple things which made us all very happy. We aren’t big on shopping for clothes or gadgets, we just like being outside and enjoying the island we live on. So it was pretty tough to hear that kids fourteen and over were not included in the government’s plans for the allowed one hour walk a day. Yes they can do the “permitted activities” as adults can now, but that’s really limited and still riddled with uncertainties and open to many interpretations. I just don’t want to deal with the stress. I wasn’t on my own either as many emotions spilled out over the weekend, frustration from the adults who don’t own a dog who still can’t go out for a walk, confusion from others, anger, tears, envy. These were all very much in evidence on social media. Thankfully not in the group www.facebook.com/groups/MajorcaMallorca where we encourage positive and helpful posts, but plenty of it in other places. Sometimes the best thing to do is just switch it off and go and do something else. Which is what I did.

But I woke up Monday morning and decided to try out something which I know is a bit “woo woo” for some of you dear reader, but maybe we should all give it a shot. It’s naming things in your life which you are thankful for in a “Gratitude Journal”, or you could just call it your “Count Your Blessings Diary”. Whatever sounds best to you. It is supposed to make you feel better, so that’s worth trying out.

Monk and interfaith scholar, David Steindl-Rast, says the following about gratitude in his TED Talk:

Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything that it would take to be happy, and they are not happy, because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. You are surprised. Why? Because they are grateful. If you think it’s happiness that makes you grateful, think again. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.”

It would seem that the benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. And gratitude doesn't need to be reserved only for momentous occasions: Sure, you might express gratitude after receiving a promotion at work, but you can also be thankful for something as simple as a delicious piece of cake. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal, regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful, can significantly increase our well-being and life satisfaction. The key seems to be to get into a routine, either writing in the morning or in the evening as a reflection. But try to write daily, it should be just a five or ten minute exercise and may help us through the last long weeks of lockdown.

Doing some more research, the experts suggest that the best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day. Gratitude journaling works because it slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on. While you might always be thankful for your great family, just writing “I’m grateful for my family” week after week doesn’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Get specific by writing “Today my husband gave me a hug when he knew I was really stressed” or "I spoke to my sister and we made each other laugh". Opening your eyes to more of the world around you can deeply enhance your gratitude practice, try to notice new things each day.

It can be a simple notebook where you write down daily what you are grateful for. Studies have shown that the people who keep a journal exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic. It also showed that people who kept the journal were more likely to make progress towards their goals. Overall, there was a greater sense of feeling connected to others, a more optimistic view towards life and better sleep quality, relative to a control group. So let’s see how this goes…Hopefully for us all the next stage of de-escalating the quarantine will allow us to go out without the fear of a fine or being arrested, wow, I will be grateful for the outdoors on that day!

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