Gratitude Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Gratitude. It’s the secret to health and happiness, and it’s free and available any time. So why can it be so hard to do? Why aren’t we more grateful? And what can we do about it?

Research tells us that practising gratitude boosts our physical, mental and emotional health.

According to Robert Emmons, founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, feeling grateful can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and help you sleep better. It also reduces your risk of depression and anxiety and boosts resilience.

Yet, when we try to practise gratitude in real life, it often sparks a strange rebellion, like a child told to be grateful for vegetables at dinner.

There are two reasons for this:

1. It can feel invalidating

If we try to be grateful without acknowledging the challenges we’re facing or any difficult emotions we’re feeling, it can make us feel resentful.

2. We’re wired to look for danger

As humans, we’ve evolved because of our finely attuned ability to identify and overcome threats. Our survival depended on us focusing on things that were wrong, not on those that were right.

So how do we overcome these instinctive blocks to gratitude?


Here are three proven ways to boost your gratitude:

1. Let yourself feel the bad and the good.

Allow yourself to acknowledge other feelings – of sadness, fear or anger, for example – even while you practise feeling grateful. You can still look for things to be grateful for while admitting that life is hard right now.

2. Make gratitude a habit. Robert Emmons, the gratitude expert mentioned above, recommends setting aside time each week to write in a gratitude journal. He also shares the tip that focusing on people has more impact than focusing on things.

3. Go deep rather than wide. Emmons says focusing in depth on one thing that you’re truly grateful for can have more benefit than trying to think of a long list of superficial things.

So grab a piece of paper, or open the notes app on your phone, and find one thing to be grateful for right now!

There are also dedicated gratitude apps that you can use. Try searching for them in the App or Play stores.

Hit Pause in your Day

Our bodies are designed to move, yet our work often means staying in a position for long periods of time. To avoid injury or fatigued muscles we’re told to take a break for at least five minutes every 45 to 60 minutes. But is there any value in taking shorter, 30 to 60-second breaks? It turns out there is.


We all know the benefits of the lunch break. A 30-minute pause in your working day gives your body and brain the chance to recharge. But often we need a little more than a single break in the day. Enter the microbreak – any brief activity that breaks up the monotony of a physically or mentally draining task. Although tiny, microbreaks can make a big difference to your day.

Lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, a microbreak is a brief, informal break from your computer screen or workstation. You might find you naturally take microbreaks to chat to a colleague or make a coffee. If you work from home, microbreaks like these might not be such a regular part of your day.

Why microbreaks matter

Research has shown taking microbreaks can increase comfort and reduce muscle fatigue and risk of injuries, particularly when stretches are included in the break. They can help us cope with long periods at our desks by taking the strain off certain parts of our bodies – such as the neck – that we’re using all day.

When your muscles are fatigued, they don’t do their job as well, so they need to rest occasionally to recover. Muscles recover very quickly from low levels of fatigue, but they take much longer to recover from high levels of fatigue, when they are tired and sore.

Micropauses of 30 to 60 seconds, every 10 to 20 minutes, will relax your muscles and restore blood flow. These small changes to your working activity allow you to change posture, position and eye focus. Studies show taking microbreaks may also improve concentration, productivity, stress and mood.

Combining microbreaks with viewing green space may be even better. Studies found that participants who were given a break looking at a photo of lush green roof, as compared to a concrete one, made fewer errors and were able to concentrate better. So if you can take time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver, your performance and attention is likely to benefit.

How to take a microbreak

Give yourself a rest from a repetitive task or position by taking a microbreak of up to 60 seconds every 20 minutes.

Try the following:

  • Eye break. Use the time to look away from your computer to help ease eye strain, symptoms of which include dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, neck and back pain and headaches. Use the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres) for at least 20 seconds.
  • Deep breathing. Focus on your breath for a few seconds to give your mind a break. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and out for four to five seconds. Repeat three times.
  • Shoulder shrug. Inhale deeply and gently lift your shoulders up to your ears. Hold for a few seconds, then let them slowly fall. Repeat three times.
  • Chin tuck. Sit up straight with your shoulders back. Now imagine drawing your chin back towards your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  • Back twists. Sit on the front of your seat, both feet on the floor, with a gap between your back and the back of your chair. Cross your arms lightly in front of your chest and slowly twist your upper body from side to side as far as is comfortable. Repeat a few times each way.
  • Neck stretch. Start with your head squarely over your shoulders and your back straight. Lower your chin toward your chest and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Relax and slowly lift your head back up. Then tilt your chin up to the ceiling, bringing the base of your skull toward your back. Hold for 10 seconds and return to the start position.

  • Side tilt. You can do this standing or sitting. Gently tilt your head toward your right shoulder until you feel the stretch (don’t raise your shoulder). Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds, then return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
  • Leg extensions. While you’re sitting, pull in your tummy then slowly extend each leg in turn and lower back down.
  • Tennis ball roll. Give your feet a gentle massage. With your shoes off, roll the arch of your feet over a tennis ball back and forth for about 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Take a stand. Set a timer to remind you to stand up for at least every 30 minutes. While you’re standing, place your hands on your waist and gently arch your back, going no further than is comfortable.

Need a bit of fun in your downtime?

There could be some benefits from watching those funny cat videos you love. While it’s best to take a break from the screen to move, one study found that humour can have an energising effect when you’re trying to do a complex task.

A study done on 124 students found that when they were given a boring task and then exposed to funny videos (an episode of “Mr Bean”) the students worked twice as long as those who watched videos on neutral subjects.

Can You Learn to Become an Optimist?

Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.” Martin Seligman


“Sure!” answers the optimist in you.

“Unlikely”, answers the pessimist.

Sorry to disappoint your inner pessimist, but you can rewire your brain to be optimistic, and the benefits are immense.

The pioneer of positive psychology and author of Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman, says “Pessimism is one of the personality traits that’s highly heritable, but also modifiable by specific exercises.”

In fact, research on twins found that optimism is only around 25 per cent inherited – the rest is up to us.

Surprisingly, the big difference between pessimists and optimists is not what they think might happen in the future. Instead, the difference is what they see as the cause of the problem.

Seligman explains:

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case.”

In another win for optimists, it turns out that you can learn to be optimistic.

“Pessimism is escapable,” says Seligman. “Pessimists can in fact learn to be optimists, and not through mindless devices like whistling a happy tune or mouthing platitudes… but by learning a new set of cognitive skills.”

Learning new cognitive skills might sound difficult, but it’s actually quite fun and not too hard. Here are two exercises you can try right now:

1.Imagine your ideal future

We spend too much time worrying about worst-case scenarios. Take a moment to playfully imagine your future success. See yourself, say ten years in the future, happy, thriving and loving life. Who is with you? What does it feel like? What dreams have come true, and in what way?

This is called the best possible selves (BPS) activity, and more than 30 studies have shown it can increase optimism, positive emotions, health and wellbeing.

The trick is to do this exercise many times over, such as once a week for eight weeks.


2.Argue with yourself

When you notice you’re having negative thoughts, argue with them. Seligman says, “First recognise them and then treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life was to make you miserable.”

You’ll find that you start standing up for yourself against your own thoughts, in the same way that you’d defend a friend being unfairly accused of wrongdoing.


When positivity becomes negative

If you haven’t heard of the term “toxic positivity”, chances are you’ve seen it in action. It’s that friend who insists on everyone being positive all the time.

Toxic positivity demands that we deny negative feelings and pretend everything is OK, even when it’s not. It’s become more prevalent than ever this last year, as people tried to cope with the challenges that the pandemic has brought.

A tell-tale phrase is “at least.” “At least you’ve still got a roof over your head.” “At least you can work while the kids are home.”

But ignoring negative feelings is like ignoring a physical health symptom: it will fester. It’s vital that we acknowledge and address difficult emotions – in others and in ourselves.

Next time you hear a friend say “gotta stay positive!”, use it as a reminder to embrace your genuine emotions.

How to Disagree with Colleagues

Disagreements are inevitable, normal, and a sign of a healthy, successful team. Yet many of us want to escape conflict as much as possible, and will try to avoid openly disagreeing with a work colleague, even though we may feel very strongly about our viewpoint.

You may not see eye to eye with a workmate but find it difficult to speak up. Or perhaps in meetings you want to disagree but are concerned about causing offence. Most of us don’t want to disagree as it makes us feel uncomfortable. And many of us don’t really know how to do it, often fearing being seen as angry, rude or unkind.

It’s easier to agree than to confront someone. But learning to openly and respectfully disagree with a workmate can improve your working relationships and give you greater job satisfaction.


Getting comfortable with conflict

1. Focus on respect. It’s normal to want people to like us, but it’s not always the most important thing. Instead aim for respect – giving it and receiving it. You can give respect by acknowledging that you understand or see why your co-worker feels the way they do, even when you strongly disagree with them. That way the other person is more likely to feel listened to and understood.

2. Don’t equate disagreement with unkindness. While there are some people who genuinely don’t want to be disagreed with, most people are open to hearing a different perspective if shared thoughtfully, and it’s unlikely you will be hurting anyone’s feelings.

3. Pick your battles. If you disagree with too much, your co-workers are likely to see you as argumentative and disagreeable. It then makes it harder for you to get heard with any reasonable disagreement you have.

4. Aim for calm. If you’re angry, emotional or upset, it’s going to affect your professionalism. Get yourself ready for a disagreement with a couple of calming breaths.

5. Avoid personal attacks. Your disagreement must be based on facts, experience, or your intuition, not on the personality of the other person. Once you start using the word ‘you’ as in “You just don’t understand…” you’re moving into a more personal attack.

6. Speak for yourself. Though it might be tempting, avoid phrases such as “Everyone believes this,” or “We all feel this way.” You can only put forward your point of view. 

Communicate in-person

Try not to disagree via email, advises career coach Jill Ozovek, writing in The Muse. Talk in person, over the phone or video chat. Why?

“First and foremost, you can both read body language and hear intonations in each other’s voices this way, leading to fewer misunderstandings (how many times has something come across as snarky in an email, when you only meant it as explanatory?),” she says.

“Secondly, talking in person also helps you both remember that you’re talking to a person – presumably a person you like – not just a computer screen. This will make it easier to be sympathetic and make it more likely that you’ll do your best to work together to find a solution, rather than fight against each other.”