By Frank Kilpatrick
We all want to feel happy and productive. But here's the Catch 22: the things we do to try to feel that way—working long hours, rushing kids from one activity to the other, and meeting all of life's obligations—can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and even resentful. (And that's not counting the complications that spring up.) We may find ourselves thinking:What's the point of all this hard work if I can't enjoy my life?
Thankfully, we can feel contentment (and yes, happiness!) even when life is at its most chaotic. It comes not from trying to control your circumstances (which isn't always possible) but from shifting how you look at them.
I love the saying "Gratitude doesn't change things for you, it changes you for things." When we can learn to come from a place of gratitude, we see things differently. There's a mindset shift that brings peace. My new Gratitude Musical/Visual meditation series, (available on YouTube at www.YouTube.com/c/GratitudeVideo) helps listeners tap into that mindset.
In other words, instead of dreading a tough project at work, we feel gratitude for our job. Instead of feeling stressed about taking our aging mother to the doctor, we're grateful to be able to spend the afternoon with her.
My colleagues—Grammy-winner Alex Wand and composer/vocalist Rayko—and I are on a mission to fill the world with gratitude. Our meditation series—which combines "microtonal" music, vocals, visuals, and on-screen lyrical messages in a unique way that keeps your attention—is designed to help train the brain for gratitude and peace. This focus stems from our work on the Stay Alive video/podcast documentary and is a central part of our strategy for supporting at-risk populations.
Of course, you can't just flip a switch and BOOM! you're grateful. Gratitude evolves over time. It's about building some small, daily habits into your routine—and the new year is the perfect time to start. For example:
Make room in your life for gratitude. Often FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives us to stretch ourselves too thin. But it's hard to feel grateful when you are overcommitted. Know that it's totally okay to turn down invitations if you don't feel like being around others, or to spend the weekend recharging. In fact, immersing yourself in the Gratitude meditation series is a great way to spend the time you free up when you cut back on all the "going and doing."
The Gratitude program can be an alternative to giving in to the toxic phenomenon of FOMO. When people remove what they've been conditioned to see as a "reward" they may feel empty, like something is lacking. This program is a great replacement. It's fine to feel grateful for friends and opportunities, but we need to feel grateful for quiet moments and downtime as well.
Prepare your mind. It's important to make time for meditation or contemplation. Think of this as strength training for your mind. At first it might seem difficult to find the time, but it teaches you to get relaxed and centered, which is a vital life skill. Over time, it will get easier and easier to drop into a space of quiet contentedness where gratitude is abundant. "Mind training" should be a part of your daily health routine, like brushing your teeth or stretching. But also, get into the habit of grabbing opportunities to meditate or watch theGratitude series—like when you're getting ready for your day or waiting for your child at soccer practice.
There are very real advantages to this type of mind training. It helps you stay in a state of gratitude, which enables you to feel peace. It keeps you in the present moment, which is an incredibly powerful technique for keeping anxiety and depression at bay.
Make mind training a part of your self-care routine... People tend to think of self-care in terms of diet, exercise, and maybe sleep, but we often ignore what we put into our minds, what we think about and ruminate on. This is a mistake. Getting intentional about what we watch, listen to, and infuse into our consciousness is just as important—what we focus on shapes our mental state, impacts our relationships, and influences every choice we make.
Stop allowing junk food into your consciousness. We should monitor our cognitive input in the same way we regulate our intake of fats, carbs and calories. What you're doing is intentionally creating the best version of yourself.
...and think of it as a gateway to overall happiness. Neuroscience has proven over and over again that a focus on gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. When people engage in practices like meditating on gratitude (as the Gratitude series encourages) or by keeping a daily journal of what they are grateful for, they tend to feel more optimistic and positive about their lives. (That's happiness!) What's more, they may sleep better, exercise more, and enjoy better physical health than those who don't focus on gratitude.
Focus on the small things. There are plenty of things you can (and should) be grateful for in life's simple moments. A hot cup of coffee. Toasty sheets fresh from the dryer on a cold evening. A catchup phone call from a dear old friend. The smell of a delicious dinner wafting from the kitchen. The look of wonder in your toddler's eyes when they see the first snowfall of the year. Just start paying attention and let yourself feel the wonderment.
Say "thank you" (and really mean it). When someone does something kind for you, recognize it with a sincere "thank you." Be specific about why what they did matters. (This helps you mean it, which is important; mindless "thank yous" don't count.) Recognition, even in small doses, makes others feel great, but it also gives you a boost of joy. And it exercises those gratitude muscles.
Manage your expectations. Real life doesn't look like a Norman Rockwell painting and your home most likely will never look like a spread in Better Homes and Gardens. Parents get old. Kids get bad grades. Tempers flare from time to time. Even during a wonderful meal with family and friends, someone might get sick, make a judgmental comment, or burst into tears during the salad course. That's life. It's messy and complicated...and beautiful.
It's hard to be grateful and focused on perfection at the same time. Keep in mind that even best-laid plans seldom go off without a hitch. Remember to savor the good moments and seek out loving feelings toward your friends and families. Find the love in every situation.
The best thing about gratitude is that it's contagious. If you put it out there, chances are very good you will get it back! And don't forget: others are watching you and will see how empowered you have become just by being happy.
Make the effort in the upcoming year to focus on gracious and loving feelings and that peace will find its way to you. You will be amazed at the new and joyful places this attitude of gratitude will lead you.
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About the Gratitude Series:
The Gratitude Musical/Visual meditation series is a daily mindfulness engagement tool created by Frank Kilpatrick along with collaborators Grammy Award-winning Producer Alex Wand and bilingual composer and performer Rayko. It couples global musical material from eclectic spiritual disciplines and non-religious sources, mystical microtonal arrangements, beautiful vocals, binaural beats and enchanting visuals with affirming on-screen lyrical messages. Its purpose is to create a synthesis that engages and entrains the brain toward a personal connection with inner peace. Gratitude's individual audio/video elements are available for viewing and listening at no charge at www.YouTube.com/c/GratitudeVideo and its own site www.GratitudeVideo.com
About Stay Alive:
Stay Alive is a 75-minute video/podcast documentary serving at-risk populations. The program delivers messages of education, compassion, and caring for those who are in deep despair, along with guidance for their families and friends who love them. Moderated by Mark Goulston, MD, participants in Stay Alive's intimate and disclosing discussion also include Kevin Hines, best known as the man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived (www.kevinhinesstory.com), and suicide prevention advocate Rayko (www.rayko.com). Its Producers Frank Kilpatrick (www.frankikmusic.com) and Linda Kilpatrick, along with director Paul Emami (www.storytellerz.tv), created Stay Alive to help those in need to find their way out of despair. Stay Alive is available here on YouTube. For more information visit www.stayalivevideo.com.
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