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How Gratitude Combats Suffering and Benefits Your Health

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As creative thinkers and entrepreneurs, we often create tools and products because we personally need to work on something.

For Canadian entrepreneur superstar, Alex Ikonn, co-founder of Intelligent Change and creator of the best-selling Five Minute Journal and Productivity Planner, gratitude was his Achilles heel.

When Alex, who had a challenging childhood and at times had felt like a victim of his circumstances, learned the power of gratitude, it shifted his whole life.

If you have scarcity of some sort in your life, whether it is things that are happening in your family, in your career, or in relationships, you can fall into that trap of saying, “Why me?”

When Alex had that first huge realization that you are planting seeds to your reality with your everyday thoughts and what you focus on, everything changed for him.

He learned that if you want to make any difference in your life, you have to take responsibility.

This led him to create tools like the Five Minute Journal that could act like “toothbrushes for the mind” and help people build new, healthy habits through a daily routine of being grateful to catapult them on a new life trajectory through changing their mindset.

No one can make you unhappy. There is power in taking responsibility for this in your life.  If you take care of that one being that you can be responsible for – YOU – you can make a big change that will inspire others.

Gratitude is the practice of recognizing and appreciating the positive aspects of life, and it has profound benefits for both mental and physical well-being. Grateful people acknowledge and express thanks for the people, experiences, and opportunities that bring joy and fulfillment, and even have feelings of gratitude for the hardships and challenges they’ve experienced [LINK]. 

You can combat suffering with gratitude. When you focus on what you are thankful for, it shifts your perspective away from negative feedback loops. This shift in mindset fights against the negative emotions you experience through suffering, so you can navigate difficult circumstances with more resilience and grace. 

An attitude of gratitude is a part of positive psychology. The practice of gratitude can help you find solace, resilience, and a deeper appreciation for the positive aspects of your life, even amid adversity. Being thankful creates positive emotions and enhances overall well-being. When you actively acknowledge and express gratitude for what brings you joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment, it triggers a surge of positive emotions. The act of appreciating the good in life, even the little things, shifts the focus from what may be lacking to what is present and valuable. That is the pivotal mindset shift. 

Your social health benefits from gratitude as well. By expressing thanks to others and acknowledging your social support system and the positive effects they have on your life, you can build stronger bonds with those around you, from your romantic relationships to business partners. The act of being thankful reinforces and amplifies your positive feelings, contributing to a more emotionally fulfilling and resilient mindset and greater life satisfaction.

The Health Benefits of Gratitude 

Cultivating a sense of gratitude is associated with a myriad of overall health benefits. Gratitude not only serves as a powerful antidote to negativity but also can improve your mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Its ripple effects extend to physical health, with studies suggesting daily gratitude practice can lower blood pressure, combat chronic pain, support less stress, and strengthen your immune system. Expressing thanks has proven effective in stress reduction, as it redirects focus from stressors to positive aspects of life. Better sleep quality is another perk, as a grateful mindset can alleviate anxious thoughts and induce relaxation before bedtime. Incorporating gratitude practices, such as keeping a gratitude journal, into your daily life is a simple yet powerful way to harness these health-promoting effects.

Gratitude is a Choice That Rejects Victimhood

Many people thought because Alex Ikonn created the Productivity Planner that he must be productive all the time. Or because he created the Five Minute Journal he must be grateful and perfectly happy, but Alex actually created those tools to help him. Gratitude shifted Alex’s whole life but it didn’t come naturally. Like many people who face hardship, he had slipped into a victim mentality before he committed to gratitude. 

When you have scarcity in your life of some sort, it’s easy (and natural!) to slip into a mindset where you say “Poor me. Why me?” After those moments it’s your choice whether you stay Below the Line in victimhood, or make positive change and move Above the Line into empowerment

If you want to make any difference in your life, you have to take responsibility. You can’t blame your upbringing or the situation you’re currently in. Victimhood is a lack of responsibility and personal agency. You can make changes if you take responsibility for your life. Victimhood magnifies your suffering and negative experiences because it keeps you in Drama

Gratitude is a commitment to focusing on positive experiences and having a grateful disposition toward the hard times you’ve faced in your life. When you have gratitude, you take back your power over those experiences and combat victimhood. 

Journaling Helps Create a Gratitude Habit 

What you focus on, you cultivate and create in your life. You plant the seeds of your reality with your everyday thoughts. It may seem like, “Oh, it’s nothing,” to watch some upsetting news or do some gossip here, pay attention to a negative thought, or go down a rabbit hole but those choices matter. 

Humans are creatures of habit. Habits create your reality.  But you get to choose what those habits are. 

There is no quick fix for gratitude. It’s a mindset you work at. It takes self-awareness and a journey toward empowerment. If you have history, decades where you’ve been cultivating a certain mindset, it’s going to take you time to relearn. It takes effort and willingness to create a habit of gratitude. But gratitude works. Higher levels of gratitude can revolutionize your life, and help you through some of the most difficult times anyone can face. 

One way to make it a habit is by using a gratitude journal. The Five-Minute Journal was created to be a tool that you have every day to help you cultivate a mindset of gratitude. Think of it as a toothbrush for the mind. You brush your teeth every morning and night on a regular basis. Gratitude is a life-changing habit that improves your mental health. Cultivate a gratitude habit through regular practice and watch how it impacts your life. 

Other gratitude practices include: 

Writing gratitude letters

Writing a gratitude letter is a meaningful and therapeutic practice. To begin, find a quiet and comfortable space where you can reflect without distractions. Choose a person you genuinely appreciate and want to express gratitude towards. As you write, tap into your grateful heart and include specifics about the qualities you appreciate in them and the things they’ve done to improve your life or touch your heart. Be sincere and share your feelings openly and honestly. Allow yourself to be vulnerable as you write about the significance of their presence in your life. I encourage you to send these letters. A letter of gratitude can have a beautiful, profound effect on your relationship with the recipient. 

Actively appreciating someone 

Cultivating an appreciation for others is a profound gateway to presence. When you consciously acknowledge and value someone’s contributions to your life, whether they’re a friend, partner, family member, or coworker, that practice prompts you to recognize the positive impact others have, fostering gratitude and shifting your mindset from negativity to a more empowered stance. When you focus on anyone and ask yourself what you can appreciate about them and see what they bring to your life it enables your growth. ⁠Even in complex or strained relationships, finding aspects to appreciate in them can be the first step in transforming your perceptions. Like most things are, it’s easier said than done. It can be difficult, but taking the extra step to practice gratitude and appreciate someone who may be more challenging for you to find appreciation for can often shift our mindset from one that is below the line, to an empowered stance. When you accept that everything that happens to you is for your own growth and benefit, you can find the capacity to appreciate even the challenging relationships in your life. ⁠

Actively appreciating something around you

Appreciating the objects or elements in your immediate surroundings is a powerful tool for daily gratitude. This exercise encourages us to have a sense of gratitude for the often-overlooked beauty in everyday items, This is one of the simplest ways to practice gratitude. All you need to do is apply your attention to any single object around you, find 10 things to appreciate about that item, and write a gratitude list! That may sound like a lot, but it’s easier than you think. Use your creativity and find some gratitude for that object. 

Responsbility is Empowerment

You can focus on what you can’t control or you can make the choice to focus on the things I do have and value them. That choice scares so many people away from choosing a life of gratitude and a mindset of gratitude because we are letting stories define us and we’re letting the stories happen to us and get written for us. We don’t pick up that metaphorical pen and say, “I am going to write my own story now.” 

Part of shifting out of Drama, which includes VictimVillain, and Hero mode, and into Empowerment involves taking radical responsibility. The opposite of Victim mode is Creator mode. 

Creator mode and life of gratitude start swith aiming your camera and choosing what you want to focus on. You can choose to focus on what you don’t like or you can choose to focus on what you’re grateful for. That takes willingness. 

As soon as you say those stories don’t define you, you’re the one left holding the pen and now it is your responsibility to create your reality. That can be really scary, especially when you feel disempowered. But when you let go of those stories you’re presented with an opportunity to take your power back and create the life you want. 

So many of us cling to blaming somebody or something else for our circumstances. This commitment to victimhood keeps you in Drama. Being grateful for your circumstances and taking responsibility for your life brings you to empowerment. 

You have so much more power than you may even realize.  The biggest power that people have is when individuals stand up and take responsibility and start making different choices.

You can only control what you can control, and the only thing you can actually control is yourself. There is little power if your focus is out there, looking for someone or something to blame.

Empowerment comes from recognizing that responsibility equals freedom. Responsibility is your span of control, it is your choice. 

One of the last questions in Alex’s Five-Minute Journal is “What did I create that I would like to create differently next time?

There is so much to learn about your own power by looking at what you can be responsible for that you previously didn’t think you were responsible for. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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