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Day 19: Empathy and Gratitude

Two concepts repeatedly turn up when you try and find out the secret of “happy” people: empathy and gratitude. They are also essential to the practice of mindfulness. Why specifically these two? Today I invite you to try them out for yourself – ad see how practicing empathy and gratitude can change your mental “position”, and help you become a more happy person.

Empathy is trying to see, feel and experience the world through the eyes of someone else. As so many concepts in the bootcamp, this seems a really easy thing to do – but is very hard when you put it into practice.
On the other hand, once mastered, it allows you to be more sensitive and open to the feelings of other people, which in turn will make it much easier for you to communicate with them. As you develop empathy, you’ll notice how people increasingly change from being aggressive to open with you, because you learn to treat them the way they want to be treated. This can be a truly powerful motivator for people, and is fundamental to building strong relationships. At the same time, it will help to deal with negativity from people: simply by understanding “where they are coming from”, and trying to help them, many negative situations will become much less stressful – and can even turn out to be an opportunity to grow for everyone.

Think of how often it is easy to just be annoyed at someone who is unfriendly, taking the last seat on the train or complaining. But while it is easy to simply react annoyed, it is often better to stop, think and … practice empathy. You’ll be surprised at the reactions you are getting!

The first activity today is to try and react to three unpleasant or annoying situations with empathy.
To do this, when you experience a situation where you feel annoyed today, try to take a deep breath. Resist the temptation to react to whatever it is annoys you – or judge the person who is annoying you.
Simply switch into mindfulness mode – but instead of focusing o your ow mind, try and focus on the other person: experience how they are experiencing the situation. Imagine actively that you are that person in this moment. Maintain their point of view for as long as you can, especially when you are talking to them or are close to them.
Once you are back to “yourself”, ask yourself how the experience was different for you and them. See how experiencing the same situation from “the other” side has changed your view of the situation.

The second activity for today focuses on gratitude. As a popular saying says: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy”. Being grateful is, luckily, a lot easier than training empathy. However, we simply often lack the time or motivation to do this important task. So, as a second activity for today, I’ll ask you to write down three things you are particularly grateful for about today – just before you go to bed. This can be things related to anything that happened today. Even if it was a really bad day, I’m sure you’ll find at least three things to be grateful for (and probably many, many more once you start thinking about it!).

By simply stoping and asking yourself “what am I grateful for today”, many people notice how their mind immediately switches from the stress they may be experiencing during the day to a much more positive frame. This is a very powerful little tool: you can use it anytime you feel stressed or annoyed – or even just a bit unhappy: simply stop for a second. Take a deep breath and list three things you are grateful for in this moment or today. Try this out over the next few days – and see how your mind will slowly change and more readily focuses on the positive. You can even have certain “check-ins” during the day: for example, try having a gratefulness moment during your lunch break tomorrow.

Two little tricks today, but both are potentially life changing. I know they are not very easy – especially in the heat of the moment when you are annoyed or feeling stressed. But sometimes this little stop and think can really make a big difference.

If this makes a difference for you, why not share this with everyone? Or do you have other tips of how to stop yourself from stressing out in a situation? Please use the comments function below… it is always great to hear from you!