Wake up with gratitude

We have all heard plenty about the benefits of gratitude.  How thinking about those things that you are grateful for can shift you out of a negative mindset into a positive one.

I’ve practiced daily gratitude in the past by writing down 3 things I’m grateful for in the margins of my journal.  But, like most of my well-intention good habits, I started to neglect doing it, then forgot all about it.  I decided that I did not have to wait for that time of year to be taking a moment to reflect and think about what I have to be thankful for in my life. For many of us, it’s a wide-ranging list – from family, to friends, to hobbies, to chocolate! Everyone has a slightly different list, with varying priorities and concerns, and of course these change from year to year and month to month depending on what’s going on in our lives at any given time.

But I am grateful for the one thing that all the readers of this blog share, and that’s a love for art. There is a certain value in the part of our lives that touches our artistic, creative side, and it’s worthwhile taking a little time to think about what this aspect of our experience and personalities gives us to be thankful for. Considering these things in a conscious way can help you to appreciate them more in the future, both when you’re exercising your artistic nature and when it’s simply part of the background of your life. Here are five things that art gives me which I am thankful for!

1) Freedom of expression – There’s nothing like exercising my artistic talent that allows me to express my thoughts, worries, hopes and feelings in new and constructive ways. In addition, I create something that I can share with others, and that can resonate with them and perhaps even help them deal with similar issues.

2) More to learn – Being an artist is a constant reminder that there is always more to learn – more about materials, more about techniques, more about the ideas I’m working with. Similarly, art lovers have a similar experience, being encouraged to learn more about the artists they admire, the history of art, and the nature of the art world.

3) Art ‘therapy.’ –  When I’ve had a difficult day, or am struggling with something that seems outside my control, engaging with art always helps me regain perspective and restore calm. The act of viewing or painting is in itself a soothing one for many people, and on top of that the art will remind you that the world is bigger than whatever difficulties you’re currently facing.

4) The joy of teaching – Sharing my knowledge and experience can be a profoundly fulfilling activity, as I have said before on this blog. Being an artist or an art enthusiast gives me inside knowledge about a field that many people find fascinating and attractive. Teaching others is valuable for me and for them, and gives me the potential to make a difference to someone’s life.

5) Visual thinking – When I’m unsure how I feel about a particular issue, or haven’t worked out what my position ought to be in an argument that is bothering me, creating (or viewing) art helps me work out what is really important, and where I want to be standing. The artistic process often has a somewhat meditative aspect, allowing me to reach a conclusion without worrying about it.

Looking ahead, I noticed how easy it is to focus on what I want next and not appreciate what I already have.  I decided I need to get back into practice and chose “Gratitude ” as my focus word for the rest of the year.

I started wondering how feeling gratitude might affect my painting process.

A study shows that if you place your hand on your heart, breathe deeply, and think of things you’re grateful for, your heart and brain waves sync up after 2 minutes.  You cannot simultaneously be stressed and grateful at the same time.  There’s speculation that that is what happens in the flow state.  So, it makes sense to start a painting session with that.

And then someone said to me that it’s not enough just to jot 3 things down every evening that you are grateful for.  You have to pause to feel them deeply as they occur, letting the gratitude sink in.

With that in mind, I’ve been pausing along my painting session to note moments of gratitude in my journal.  The smooth line that flowed out effortlessly.  The bit of burnt orange glowing through the turquoise.  The funny little unexpected shape that popped up.

It’s so easy to overlook these while we stress and fret over the bits that aren’t working.  I’m not sure if gratitude will shift my painting practice, but for right now, it’s making me a little more present and joyful along the way.

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