/ 8 December 2010

The power of gratitude

If you have a roof over your head, food, a car, a good job and a supportive family, you’re probably feeling grateful right now. If you’re not, why not?

Gratitude is an attitude that lets us enjoy and be thankful for what we have in the present. When we take stock of our achievements and the things that make us happy, we don’t feel ungrateful — we feel blessed. Or we should. And it’s this sense of gratitude that makes our lives rich.

As Doris Day put it: “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.”

“The way you live now influences how you approach the future,” says financial coach Linda Smith. “If you’re living as if you’re well off, and you’re thankful in advance for all the good things coming your way, you’re in a sense creating the future. This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily end up with a Porsche in the driveway — but if you live with optimism and energy, your chances of achieving your goals will be that much greater.”

When we complain about how things could or should be, says Smith, we are, in a sense, invalidating ourselves. We’re invalidating what we have now and making a value judgement with regard to our choices and our gains. “If you’re saying something is wrong, and life shouldn’t be like this, you’re not accepting the way things are now,” says Smith. “And that means you have disempowered yourself. You are playing the victim.”

Gratitude and money
Let’s say you’re in debt and you’re miserable. Perhaps you overspent and make some poor financial judgements. Now you’re berating yourself and can’t see much to be grateful for.

The trick here is to accept the situation and set about making positive changes.

“Don’t say, ‘I can’t get out of this’ or ‘Things shouldn’t be like this’,” says Linda. “Say: ‘I’d like to have enough money to pay off my bond’ or ‘I’d rather reduce my debt by R5 000 and save’.” Shift your viewpoint. It’s pointless to beat yourself up. You’re in debt. But that can change.

In a sense, you have to be grateful for not only the good things in your life, but the challenges, too. Some people have come back from bankruptcy with a desire to succeed and they have achieved their aims. How have they done this? By accepting the present and having a plan for the future.

Even if your situation isn’t dire, but you’re complaining because you “need to” lose 5kg, upgrade your wheels or buy a better computer, don’t fall into the trap of saying “My life would be better/perfect/ideal if I had/did …”. Because it certainly won’t! Again, accept and be grateful for small blessings — many people don’t have cars, or computers, and unless you are clinically obese you probably don’t need to worry too much about looking “perfect” in your jeans. That kind of thinking is disempowering. Appreciate that R2 000 in the bank — sure, it’s not R20 000, but it’s money someone else would love to have.

Gratitude tips
Linda offers the following tips to help you focus on gratitude:

  • Be mindful of the things you can be grateful for — good health, a loving partner, a great client, a hobby that gives you pleasure. We so often take these blessings for granted, believing they are “not enough”. Yet if we didn’t have them, or lost them, we would quickly discover their value. They, too, are a form of wealth.
  • If you keep a diary or journal, jot down some of the things you are grateful for. What’s nice about this exercise is you can go back over your lists and see what progress you’ve made, what has made you truly happy, and which blessings have continued to bring you joy. We often live joylessly because of our worries and troubles — this journaling reminds us that life isn’t one long trial, but a series of peaks and troughs that we can choose to see positively or negatively.
  • Linda has her clients play a game called “virtual shopping”, whereby they imagine what they would spend their money on. They begin with R100 on the first day and double the amount each day, then have fun choosing how to “spend” their money over a three-week period. “The funny thing is, just visualising having the money, and playing with ideas, makes clients feel better,” says Linda. “They enjoy imagining what the future can look like — and they also feel empowered as they’re not thinking about their debts, overheads and so on. Just having a positive emotional response towards money can change one’s whole attitude.” Try playing this game yourself.
  • Watch your self-talk — avoid absolute judgements (“I’m always in debt”, “I’ll never be able to save”) and try to motivate yourself with positive language (“I’d like to reduce my debt by R10 000 by next April”, “My aim is to save R100 each month”).
  • Be very clear about your situation right now. If you make peace with and accept your current financial status, you can set about making constructive changes. If, however, you’re in denial and you refuse to acknowledge your debt, your poor money management or your unwillingness to take charge of your financial future, you are limiting yourself. Take charge today and be grateful for a second chance!

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