Kelly Bertrand reflects on her experience with gratitude and how it’s actually – somehow – changed everything in her life.
Out of Capsule’s three founders (myself, Alice and Emma) I am very firmly the least woo-woo of the bunch. I think meditation is a waste of time (how people’s minds don’t wander between to-do lists, plot points of Netflix shows and the old ‘clear your mind, clear your mind, clear your mind’ mantra is beyond me).
I can take or leave horoscopes and tarot, and while I think crystals are pretty, I’m not convinced the lump of rose quartz I had sitting on my coffee table for all of my (many) single years did anything for my love life. In fact, I’m positive it did sweet f*** all apart from hold down napkins when I had people over.
But I am a firm believer in the power of the universe – karma, intuition, vibes, that kind of stuff. I think that the universe has a plan, that fate coexists with ambition and desire, and that, to really get early 2010’s on it all, everything happens for a reason (you’re allowed to eyeroll here if you like).
And looking back on the last three years where my life has done a complete 180 – single to partnered, living solo to living with my love, miserably working for other people to running a business – I can’t help but think that gratitude has had a lot to do with it.
It’s a big thing for a cynic – a JOURNALIST for God’s sake – like me to believe so wholeheartedly in gratitude, but here we are – and I’m not the only one. SO many studies have begun to harp on about the benefits of practicing gratitude, with experts finding those who do so are generally happier and healthier, with lower blood pressure, less inflammation and a better sleep cycle.
What is gratitude and how do you practice it?
Essentially, it’s just intentionally making time to recognise what you’re grateful for in your life. There’s two big ones – affirming the good things we have, and acknowledging the good that comes our way from others. It makes you thankful for what you have, rather than what you don’t, and acknowledges your place in the universe alongside everyone else.
It can be a powerful tool to change your perspective on shitty times by making you think about the good stuff all around you, rather than the one thing that’s not going your way. And if everything is going your way, it’s a way of thanking all of the internal and external factors that have made it so. It’s been dubbed ‘social glue’ too – making us better people to be around and better people to connect with and commit to, and to help ward off the ever-growing impact of loneliness.
All of us naturally have this thing called ‘negativity bias’ where we’re more inclined to pay attention to what is negative about something, rather than all the positives. We remember negative stuff more than positive; we notice negative things faster than positive ones, etc. Gratitude acts as kind of a course corrector for this – reminding ourselves that we shouldn’t let it shape our views. And while there’s also toxic positivity – an overcorrection the other way – the fact that we’re more drawn towards the negative is an evolution, survival instinct thing, so it’s not going away in a hurry.
The most obvious way to practice gratitude is with gratitude journals. Users will jot down the things that have happened that day, week, month or year that they’re grateful for – big stuff like their health and roof over their head, or small things like the fact they had their favourite muffin at their favourite café that morning, or that the sun finally came out (looking at you, January in Auckland).
Others simply sit and think of what they’re grateful for (a little too close to meditation for me personally but hey you do you boo) or make time over a cup of coffee or wine (this is what I do).
How gratitude worked for me
For me, learning how to practice gratitude happened accidentally and unconsciously at first – it was just before the term entered the cheugy lexicon and was adopted by millennials everywhere (now, of course, the whole concept has been usurped by Gen Z’s slightly toxic ‘lucky girl syndrome’ but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
After getting over a rough breakup and spending a few rather miserable years single but desperately not wanting to be (yes it WAS my late 20s, how did you know!?), eventually I realised that something had to give.
I was attacking dating apps with the ferocity of an influencer hunting down a discount code – loudly, abrasively, somewhat desperately – as I tried to force the universe’s hand and demand it find my ‘one’. I wasn’t so much a whole person as a half looking for her other, which we all know is a sad, lonely place to be.
One day I simply woke up and decided that enough was enough, and such matter couldn’t and shouldn’t be orchestrated by force, and I decided that I needed to be grateful for what I had – amazing friends, independence, intelligence, and freedom.
From there, I made it a point to think of all the good things I was vibing that day as soon as I woke up. Often it was little things (I’ve written about my love of the little things before) like candles, coffee and wine, new cosy socks, a new book, a new song from my favourite band.
I actually became OK with being single, for the first time in my entire life. In fact, I LOVED it. The freedom of doing whatever the hell you liked; the knowledge my independence was growing with every day, the joy of relying on myself to get the job done.
Then came a pandemic, lockdowns and losing my job, and while all of these things tested me like they did for everyone else going through them, they didn’t shake me. Somehow – SOMEHOW – I managed to maintain a kind of equilibrium throughout, and save for the week after I lost my job where gratitude was firmly replaced by a case of rosé from Glengarry, I had an unshakable belief that me and the universe, the buddies we were, would sort it out together.
Enter, Capsule – founded in a level four lockdown with no face time, no resource and frankly, no idea, apart from the love of what we do (although I do sometimes wonder if the reason I picked pink as an accent colour was because of the aforementioned case of rosé).
Then, of course, I met the love of my life – not through a forced interaction, but a chance encounter through a mutual friend.
And, of course, I’m grateful for our wonderful, impossibly happy life together every damn day.
How can you practice gratitude?
Short answer, however the hell you like, really – but here’s some tips:
- Gratitude journals – the shining beacon of the gratitude movement. Pick a notebook or an app (or the notes app on your phone) and at whatever interval you want, just write down the stuff you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be bloody Shakespeare – just get some words on a page.
- A time for gratitude – being a writer, you’d think that I would be mad into the journaling, but for me it’s too close to ‘work’, so instead, I choose to practice gratitude over my morning cup of coffee. One, because it’s an easy place to start – ‘damn I’m grateful for this coffee that’s waking me up’ – and it’s a time where I can just sit, think, reflect and feel some inner peace before the chaos of whatever fresh hell erupts during the day begins.
- Grammarly’s ‘tone re-write’ suggestions – this is a good one if you’re keen to change your language to more positive intentions and affirmations, all of which can help you on the path to gratitude. Download the plugin, and it’ll go through your writing – emails, social captions, reports etc – and replace any negative stuff with more positive language, such as ‘we’re never going to finish this’ to ‘we need some more time to finish this’.
- Send a short thank you text to someone in your circle – invite others into your gratitude vibes and you’ll get it back 100 fold. Trust me – you never regret being nice.
- Look up – not to sound like a hippy, but there’s so much around you that you should always be thankful for. Living in New Zealand is a huge one – the nature, the air, the people.
- Make a gratitude board – the close cousin of a vision board, print out photos, sayings and illustrations of all the things you’re grateful for, and place it somewhere in your house where you can see it every day (for steps on how to make one, click here).