By Jen Shackleton.
Teacher, EFT & NLP Practitioner, Fitness Instructor/Founder of FitGlow Studio.
It doesn’t look much, but this is one of my treasures…I know it bears an uncanny resemblance to a half-sucked barley sugar, but it’s very precious to me; it is my cherry quartz gratitude stone.
Midway through our first (and only) visit to Camden a couple of years ago, as we dragged our boys with their sudden onset of concrete legs through a rabbit warren of beautiful boutiques that they hated and wanted to ‘leave mummy! NOW!’, we came across a magical Aladdin’s cave. The complaining stopped, spellbound were we all by the floor to ceiling trinkets, gems, carvings and tie-dye – I was overcome by a sudden nostalgia for the teenage ‘New Model Army Years’ as I got sucked in by the rainbow hessian hoodies, the boys were overcome by the clouds of incense which halted the moaning for a few blissful minutes, while the husband enjoyed the peace and bought me my gratitude stone.
Reluctantly, back outside – the boys breathing once again and me in a truculent teenage huff – I was instructed to put it in my pocket and rub my thumb over it and remember all the things that I am grateful for. It was a sudden, beautiful moment at the end of an otherwise pretty challenging day. Laughter bubbled up, we snapped out of our funk and we were back on track, a team. Although, I could barely contain a wry smile at the timing, it got us harmoniously to the end of that expedition. I’m a cup-half-full kinda’ girl but even my positive pants were wearing thin that day, and so having a tangible reminder of the power of gratitude at that moment was a simple yet wonderful gift.
Every single second of our lives, there is an amazing, continuous exchange of information happening at a subconscious and cellular level between our body and our brain, and as we busily fill our days, few of us are aware of how our thoughts are affecting the way we feel. As humans, we always want more; more money, more clothes, a nicer house, a better job, the list goes on. It’s the reason we were able to evolve, why we weren’t content to live in mud huts, why we keep on making huge advances in technology, but problems can arise when we let our endless pursuit of growth overwhelm and block our pursuit of happiness.
As a species, we can have a tendency to focus on the negatives, so when you throw a global pandemic into the mix along with an extended winter lockdown, it’s all too easy for our brains to start up that train of thought about all the stuff we can’t do, or places we can’t visit, all the loved ones we miss and the fears we have for the future. We get those neural networks of negativity firing as we focus on that other thing that bothers us, and then that other thing, and the other thing, and before we know it, we’re feeling dreadful.
However, there is much we can do to interrupt and knock out those trains of negative thought – and a powerful way to start is with gratitude. Whether it’s with a daily practice, writing in a journal or just focusing the mind (when we happen to come across our gratitude stone in the bottom of our handbag), scientific studies have shown, time and again, that significant changes take place in the chemistry of our brains when we concentrate on what we have and what we are grateful for.
Taking a moment to focus on the present, and appreciating being able to experience the world with our five senses, will shift our heart rhythm, creating emotional stability and calm. Bringing forth feelings of gratitude and compassion towards other people will flood the body with positive chemicals and spark brain activity critical to sleep, mood regulation and metabolism. This in turn strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. Although our social interactions are presently limited, we can harness the power of our minds to feel greater connection with friends and family through the practice of gratitude and appreciation.
Try it now – close your eyes and activate a feeling of thankfulness within you and notice how it makes you feel. Can you think of three things about your immediate surroundings that you are grateful for? The dirty washing may be taking over the house and there’s mud up the stairs, but can you flip it round and remember three things about each member of your family that you love?
On that day in Camden, how could I continue being stroppy when I was appreciating the awesome humans in front of me – hence my wry smile at the perfectly timed gift. What about your friends or colleagues? What about you? Can you think of five things that you love and appreciate about yourself – go on, big yourself up – you’ll feel wonderful. I recently listened to Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast with the fascinating Rhonda Byrne, author of ‘The Secret’ and ‘The Greatest Secret’ – who says in only 17 seconds of consciously filling your thoughts with things you love, you will shift yourself into a positive state, change your energy and change your day.
Powerful stuff indeed – but if sometimes you could do with a tangible reminder, just like I did and still do at times, there is no need to wait until the shops are open or even drag your kids to Camden – you could just search online and arrange for your favourite delivery driver to bring you a cherry quartz gratitude stone by the end of the week, if not tomorrow. Magic!