“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I have a secret I want to share. My clients often ask me why I am so high energy and why it always seems that life goes so well for me. When we first start working together, they can’t quite understand how I seem to have this excitement for life all the time. I always laugh and let them know exactly what is behind the smile on my face or the lightness in my voice.
So, the truth is that it is not that I have tried to keep it a secret – it is just such a part of my life that I forget that many people haven’t tapped into it. Everyone has access to it but they simply don’t know that. They may have even been told somewhere along the way or even read it tons of times from various sources but it sounded so WooWoo or Pollyanna that they never got how powerful it really is.
So here is the scoop … my most powerful tool … a practice that has become a lifestyle … my Secret Sauce in life: I AM GRATEFUL! Yep, that’s right! I discovered many years ago that one of the most powerful practices available to us is the practice of being GRATEFUL! And I practice it faithfully, day in day out, during the seemingly “good” times and the seemingly “not so good” times. I wake up experiencing it … I keep myself present to it during my day … I go to sleep expressing it.
Now it is easy to negate that … people in my life have said to me, “Yeah, that is fine for you to say, Kym, but you don’t know what my life looks like!” What they don’t know is that I have the life I have because I am grateful … the gratitude comes first and everything else evolves from that. I, just like everyone else, have had and still have my challenges … life is life … and my life has been a wild spin that has included very human experiences … really delicious fulfilling moments AND broke moments, sad moments, traumatic moments and dark moments. It was actually during one of those broke and dark moments that I began to learn the power of gratitude.
As a species we come in with a focus on what is not right … our ancestors lived in a world where focusing on what was not right was an actual life-saving activity. Fortunately, we are no longer having to worry about being attacked by wild animals (well for most of us anyway) but we still focus on what is wrong as if everything in our lives is still is a threat to our lives. And with all of our focus upon what is not right and not working there is very little space to see what is right and what is working.
So gratitude is a discipline, a practice … something that can be a challenge to take on … but it can be learned and we can totally re-wire ourselves to expand this emotion. Scientists, neuroscientists and researchers such as neuropsychologist Rick Hanson (author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Lasting Inner Strength and Peace) and psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons (who is one of the foremost authorities on the topic of gratitude and author of Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier) have proved that.
Bottom line: by practicing gratitude on an on-going basis you actually grow new neural circuits in your brain and hardwire these new neural pathways so that, with time, the synaptic plasticity literally changes your reactions to circumstances. The result is that you will find yourself being more and more grateful in the face of whatever life is giving you in the moment.
Now what does all this have to do with Artists and Creativity you may ask … well let’s connect the dots. There are some REAL creative benefits to gratitude (not to mention all the other proven amazing physical, social, emotional and business benefits). Here are a few:
- Gratitude expands our moods, lifts up our spirits and helps us cope with stress, adversity and anxiety (which both shut down our creativity). Bottom line is that gratitude studies show that it is a component of happiness. When we are happier it has been proven that our creative problem solving improves and our creativity is enhanced.
- Gratitude gets us out of our own head and focused outwardly at the things we are grateful for … then we begin to notice details, remember peripheral details more vividly and see and experience things that can inspire us.
- Gratitude connects us to a creative universe and therefore back to our own creative self.
- Gratitude opens us up so that we flow.
- Gratitude allows us to more easily think outside of the box.
- Gratitude helps us to find common threads among seemingly unrelated ideas.
- Gratitude encourages us to discover and try new things, play, grow and in general serves to expand and build our lives.
- Gratitude enhances our own self-worth.
- Gratitude blocks negative toxic emotions.
- Gratitude allows us to be in a space of celebration.
How do you generate gratitude? Since it is a learning process you will need practices that will help you build those new neural pathways. You may need to “just do it” at the beginning. It may not seem really sincere. It may even seem silly or embarrassing but the game is to practice until it become natural and if you practice it will become natural.
Here are some of my personal favorite practices to keep gratitude present in my life:
- Start your Day being Grateful. Start your day by finding at least one thing to be grateful for and say it out loud. I begin mine very simply by saying things like, “I am so grateful to be able to be alive today.”
- Keep a Gratitude Journal or a Gratitude List. Personally I keep a gratitude journal and I never go to bed without taking at least 15 minutes to list all of the things I am grateful for from that day. I also sometimes pick topics that I am grateful for and journal about that. Sometimes I sketch what I am grateful for too. You can also start simply by just writing down 5 things you are grateful for in your journal each day (hint: do not just repeat the same 5 things every day … think about it, get specific, use your creativity). I prefer to write vs. using a keyboard because it makes it more real for me (writing create different pathways in our brains than using a computer or device) but there are also lots of Gratitude apps and journals available now that you can use.
- Make Gratitude Art. I have a gratitude board that I am constantly adding things to. It is filled with symbols of things I am grateful for (mine is mixed media – photos, notes on paper, real objects like sea shells, paint splashes of colors that represent things for me, etc.)
- Share your gratitude with others. There are many ways to go about this. You can have a gratitude sharing moment at dinner each night with those you may dine with or you can find a Gratitude buddy that you spend a few minutes on the phone with each day or even one day a week and share what you are grateful for with each other. Getting others in the game inspires you back as you inspire them.
- Actually express your gratitude to people. I make it a practice to thank people as much as I can. I really look for something real and specific I can appreciate and let them know it. I acknowledge people, I thank them, I complement them … and I make sure it is authentic (not just some lame set of words). I don’t take things for granted whether it is the waitress at a restaurant or one of my staff or people in my life who take care of certain responsibilities (just because it is someone’s job or responsibility doesn’t mean I can’t be grateful for what they did).
- Look outside of You and beyond You. I take time to be grateful for the colors in the sky, the breeze, the look on my dog’s face, all of the absolute miracles that are all around me all the time. I am grateful for all things created by something much bigger than me.
- Let Gratitude lead the way. I start conversations with people by expressing gratitude vs. by moaning and complaining about what is wrong.
- Be on the Hunt for things to be grateful for. I don’t just wait for the good moments to be grateful I look for something to be grateful for in everything. With practice you can always find something if you look for it.
- Look for what’s right. This is tricky since we are so trained to look for what is wrong. I make it a practice to pause at different times in the way & just ask, “What is right?” then let myself be thankful for what ever comes up for me.
- Let yourself express it fully. Some times I dance with gratitude, sometimes I sing with it, sometimes I paint it or write a poem about it or photograph it. I take it in deeply and let it out fully vs. having it be a “go through the motions” kind of activity.
- Bring gratitude to your Art. I take a moment when I begin to create to express gratitude for what I am about to create and gratitude for how it turns out and for who it may get to serve.
- Mix it up. Try different things and keep it fresh so that you don’t let it become mundane.
And where do we get started? What is there for us to be grateful for as Artists and Creatives specifically? Here are a few things that that you might focus on – you can find your own flavor of these. You can be grateful for:
- Discovering your passion for Art no matter when in your life you did.
- Your natural creativity that you can always take to the next level.
- The materials you have available to you to create with.
- The people in your life who encourage your creativity and support you in your artistic endeavors.
- Being able to see the beauty in this world and being able to create more beauty to add to the world.
- The time that you do have to create (no matter how much time that is).
- The space you have to create in (no matter what size it is or where it is).
- The opportunity to always learn more about your own Artistic process, medium and/or craft.
- How far you have come (no matter where you are now).
- The people who appreciate your Art.
- The people who buy your Art.
- Other Artists who have paved the way for you or you have learned from.
- Other Artists who continue, along with you, to get Art out into the world.
Like Nietzsche I think that the essence of all beautiful and great Art comes from Gratitude. My addition is that I simply think that any Art created from gratitude is Beautiful and Great!
What do YOU have to be grateful for?
What are some creative gratefulness practices that you may already utilize that you are willing to share with us?
Finally – I just want to express my gratitude to each of you who reads this for being an Artist or Creative. You are a contribution on the planet! I invite you to give any feedback you have since my real intention is always to get us thinking and I welcome anything you want to share with me/us.