How to Stop Being Negative for Better Wellbeing
Have you ever found yourself constantly being negative, a nag or complaining? If so, you’re not alone. One way to turn your negativity into positivity is gratitude.
Why should I care about gratitude?
According to research, gratitude won’t just turn your mood around. It is good for improving your overall wellness too. Keeping a simple gratitude journal can improve the quality and duration of your sleep, improve your immunity, reduce stress, lessen pain, reduce blood pressure and encourage healthy behaviors such as exercising more. So showing appreciation for what you have is good for your health.
Gratitude is simply stopping every now and then to appreciate what you already have.
When I first came to America I was full of the joys of a newly married woman, ready for an adventure in my newly adopted country. Everything was good for a few months, until I started to find fault with our house. Everyday I would complain about something new in our home … the peeling paint, the noisy neighbors, the untidy garden … the list was endless. My negativity snowballed until one day my husband spoke one morning before I had even uttered any words. He said, “Clare, if this is going to be something negative about our house, save it, I don’t want to hear anymore problems”. I stood there dumbstruck.
I couldn’t believe I’d become so negative.
So, I made a pact with myself not to say anything negative about the house or our neighbors anymore. I was able to keep that going for a full 24 hours. I’d gotten into a habit of noticing and commenting on problems that to go cold turkey was just too difficult for me.
So I tried a new tactic. I had recently watched The Secret so I decided to try a gratitude journal. Everyday I would say thank you for 10 things I was grateful for, including my home. The difference was almost instantaneous.
Instead of forcing myself to ignore the negative I was priming myself to notice the positive. I was having my eyes opened to the beauty and abundance that was already around me. Not only was I becoming more positive, but it was having a knock-on effect on improving my relationships, my health and my stress levels.
Why gratitude worked
If you’ve ever tried to give up a bad habit you’ll know how hard it is to stop. In his book, How Healing Works, Dr Wayne Jonas talks about his patient Jeff who although highly motivated could not quit smoking. In the end, he ignored trying to quit smoking and instead concentrated on learning how to run marathons. Eventually he quit smoking by replacing the habit gradually as his enthusiasm for running grew.
My bad habit was negativity. Simply suppressing my negativity didn’t work. I needed to replace the behavior with something else as satisfying as complaining.
Giving up complaining wasn’t enough on its own, but replacing it with a gratitude practice worked for me.
Just as with any skill, you can learn to be more grateful.
It just takes some time, and the simplest way to improve gratitude is to start a gratitude journal.
How to start a gratitude journal
Starting a gratitude journal is very simple.
- Gather your writing utensil and journal or paper.
- Decide how many things you want to be grateful for. Make it a manageable amount between 3-10.
- Put your thoughts down on paper. Reflect on things that have happened recently that you’re thankful for … relationships, natural wonders, modern conveniences, your body. Anything goes!
- Write the WHAT and the WHY. For example, I am so thankful for my good eyesight because I can enjoy reading many books. You can write the why in as much depth as you like.
- Write as though no-one will ever read your gratitude journal (which they shouldn’t anyway, unless invited to). So don’t feel like you ‘should’ be grateful for something or someone If you don’t feel it.
- Repeat at the same time of day to help it become a habit. But it does not have to be a daily habit. Once a week is sufficient.
This might seem like a tall order for some of you, especially if you don’t enjoy writing. Thankfully a gratitude journal is not the only way to improve your gratitude.
What are some alternatives to a gratitude journal?
- Thank you letters or notes
- Taking the time to savor a moment
- Use a gratitude app to pin down things you are thankful for
- Make something by hand to show your gratitude to someone e.g, baked goods, knit a scarf, a homemade card
- Don’t forget to say thank-you in the moment to people around you and take a moment to appreciate what they do e.g., at the checkout counter
- Keep a scrapbook of momentos and sketches of memories that you are thankful for
- Be grateful for the things you hate e.g. I’m so thankful I no longer have to commute a long distance
I kept up my practice of writing 10 things a day in my gratitude journal for a whole year. Then I reduced it to 3 times a day. Now I don’t write as frequently, but as soon as I need a boost of positivity I break out my gratitude journal again.
For some people, having a gratitude practice just doesn’t work. They don’t enjoy it or don’t feel like anything is changing. That’s ok. Everyone is different and it’s about finding the right technique for you. I encourage everyone to at least try a gratitude practice first. But don’t force yourself to continue if there is no benefit for you. Move on to another technique.
As for me? Well I’m so grateful you took the time to read this post.