15 November 2018Last updated


Happy people’s secret

Can incorporating gratitude exercises into your day really make you happier and enhance the relationships in your life? We gave four readers a challenge: to focus on one important relationship in their lives and do some simple, practical gratitude exercises relating to it every day for a week. The results were both surprising and inspiring...

By Catherine Harper
1 Dec 2014 | 05:11 pm
  • Stephanie Robert, 36, and her brothers Scott, 31, and Steve, 40.

    Source:Dennis B Mallari/ANM Image 1 of 4
  • Kim Lowe, 32, and her mum Pauline Bacon, 62.

    Source:Dennis B Mallari/ANM Image 2 of 4
  • Heidi Raeside, 33, mum to James, 3, and Teddy, 2.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 3 of 4
  • Xandra Ramos, 31, and her husband Jigme Dukpa, 34.

    Source:Dennis B Mallari/ANM Image 4 of 4

Stephanie robert, 36, and her brothers Scott, 31, and Steve, 40

I’m lucky to have my two brothers here in Dubai with me, but I know how easy it is to take family for granted. I’d always wanted to do something like a gratitude exercise but – as with many things in life – I’d never got round to it until I was asked to do this challenge.

Day 1: For my first gratitude session this morning I brainstormed words that came to mind when I thought about my brothers. I came up with words like ‘Love’, ‘Fun’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Protection’, ‘Authenticity’, ‘and ‘Connection’. I stuck a Post-It on my mirror with the word ‘Laughter’. I’ve decided to add a Post-It with one of the brainstormed words on to my mirror every day, so at the end of my week I’ll have a gratitude tree!

I then met with my friends for coffee in the morning and later with my father-in-law for lunch, and found the sense of gratitude already spilling over into my other relationships – I feel so fortunate to have such kind and loving presences in my life.

It was a great first day; just the simple exercise this morning made me realise that gratitude is a state of being; it’s about taking a step back and appreciating all my good fortune.

Gratitude reminder: I changed my iPhone screensaver to a picture of myself and my brothers when we were younger.

Day 2: Years ago my brothers and I made a pact to always tell it like it is, and this morning I wanted to focus on how important that honesty is and how it has helped me to get their true opinion on important things in my life.

I was packing for a weekend beach getaway with my husband and kids and it reminded me of when my brothers and I used to pack together for our trips back to our native Brazil. It changed my packing experience from a chore to happy memories! In the car on our way down I played music that reminded me of what we used to listen to together when we were younger. It’s amazing how music can link memories to emotions.

Post-it for the day: Honesty.

Gratitude reminder: Music!

Day 3: I woke up in front of a beach this morning, so as I was looking out at the waves, I decided to practise my gratitude meditation. We have a family WhatsApp group and I can’t help but send my brothers a message of this view of the water and the palm trees. Everything just looks more beautiful when you are coming from a place of gratitude.

This afternoon I watched my boys play in the sand with their dad and I realised I also want to teach them an attitude of gratitude. I remember reading about a Family Happy Jar, where your kids write down something that made them happy that day and put it in. At the end of the week you sit together and read all the notes. I think they would love it!

Post-It for the Day: Encouragement.

Gratitude reminder: A guitar pic in my pocket to remind me of jam sessions with my brothers, them on guitar and me trying to sing.

Day 4: Today, in true Stevie Wonder style, I’ve decided to not text or WhatsApp my brothers but “Just call to say I love you”... Luckily one of them did pick up!

This process is making me realise that gratitude is truly an attitude. It’s also contagious... I got a little message from my older brother this afternoon “I love you, Sis”.

I met my husband for lunch and he says he feels that he has also started to think differently. This project is also benefiting those around me.

Post-it for the day: Love.

Gratitude reminder: A note in my pocket to call my brothers later in the day.

Day 5: I spent a few moments thinking about how my brothers have always encouraged me to be authentic to myself and to not take myself too seriously. They’re my anchors: when motherhood gets hectic they remind me of my identity, my passions, who I really am. This afternoon I dug out some old photos of when we all had much more time. These days we are all so busy with children, school runs... When was the last time we all sat down and watched a movie?

Post-it for the day: Inspiration.

Gratitude reminder: An old picture in my wallet.

Day 6: I put my alarm on 15 minutes earlier for a gratitude meditation. I relaxed on my bed and tried to imagine what it would feel like if
I knew my brothers were not just 20 minutes away. What would I do differently? Would I call them more often or less often? Afterwards I invited them out to lunch, just the three of us. Doing this exercise has made me appreciate that I’m very lucky as an expat to have them close.

Post-it for the day: Communication.

Gratitude reminder: A surfboard key ring from Brazil that reminds me of a trip we took together.

Day 7: I woke up after having a dream about my brother Steve; it was an idea for his business. I wrote it down – I am sure that this was a result of these gratitude exercises; it has opened up a whole new realm in my consciousness.

Today I can feel a shift in my awareness. The more I focus on the positivity in my life, the more ‘signs’ I get; like when I saw the milk froth on my coffee had formed the shape of a heart – would I have normally noticed that? As I get ready for bed I smile as I see my gratitude tree on my mirror. This has been a truly fulfilling week. I’ve benefited so much more from this exercise than I had imagined, to be honest. Gratitude has worked its magic by revealing the abundance in my life. I’ve realised you don’t need to wait for someone’s absence in order to fully appreciate them; we should focus on these feelings in the here and now. Gratitude fosters greater, deeper love.

Kim Lowe, 32, and her mum Pauline Bacon, 62

My mum is my best friend and I love having her here in Dubai with us. She does so much for me and my little family here and I’m always telling her how thankful I am, but doing the gratitude exercises each day made me really stop to think about how truly grateful I am to her.

Without her around, weekends would be a struggle. We have two children aged 19 months and three months, and it’s very hard to juggle them both. Either Mum comes over to us or we go to hers almost every Friday, so we can have lunch together and she can play with the children. Without the extra pair of hands, I’d be in a constant state of exhaustion. Knowing this has made me think about how hard it was for Mum when we were small; she had three of us!

With this in mind, when I was doing the gratitude exercises, I tried to be more thoughtful of her and her needs. I found myself doing little things like picking up her favourite treats from the supermarket, calling to see if she needed anything, generally trying to be more helpful, brighten up her day and make things easier for her.

I’ve also been making the effort to let her know how much I appreciate her, through little things such as emails and messages just to tell her I love her and I appreciate her. However, the biggest change I’ve seen is in my gratitude and what I’m actually grateful for. Before, I knew I was grateful to have Mum here and for trivial things like her lending me some cash when I was short or dropping off soup when I was sick. Now, I realise I’m grateful for far more than that; my list of things to be grateful for includes being simply so thankful that she’s always there for me to go to when I need something, such as when my children are ill and I need advice, or when I’m ill.

Now that I’m a mother too, I can see just how much she’s sacrificed for her own children. I couldn’t be more grateful for my mum’s time and for her love.

I’d like to think I always show my gratitude to my mum, but having gone out of my way to spend time thinking about gratitude and incorporating it into my everyday life, I hope Mum knows just how much I love and appreciate her every day.

Heidi Raeside, 33, mum to James, 3, and Teddy, 2

My parents and grandparents always taught us to be thankful for what we had and focus on that, rather than what others have, and I feel it’s vital
for me to instil this attitude in my children. I want them to be grateful for everything I’m grateful for: to be alive, to be healthy, to be loved, to enjoy the world around them.

Before I did the gratitude exercises, I’d say I was already a very grateful person and I was thankful for having reasonably well-behaved children. Of course, they test the boundaries regularly – as all children do – and my younger one can be feisty, but in general they’re both placid and gentle. I’ve realised that me getting impatient and frustrated with them is just that; me responding badly.

Writing down things for which I’m grateful in the morning was an affirming experience and put me in a good mood for the day. During the day, seeing little reminders pop up everywhere worked a treat to keep me on track. I left a note to myself on a kitchen cupboard, reminding me to be grateful that Teddy is so cuddly, and it really helped my patience when he was doing his usual trick of hanging off my hip while I was trying to cook!

It’s a battle we have every evening, because he just wants to be close to me even though it’s not very practical, and I was able to remind myself the needy cuddles aren’t going to last forever so I need to be grateful for them now.

I still found myself moaning about silly little things while I was doing the exercises – as we all do – but I did notice, when I found my little reminder notes, that they made me reflect on what I was moaning about and pull myself up for being silly and moaning.

I did the exercises when I was already feeling pretty buoyant, but I have a couple of friends I feel would really benefit from trying them. They’re stuck in a rut and have lost track of all the wonderful things in their lives, and I think doing simple gratitude exercises like the ones I tried would definitely make a difference to their positivity, especially when times are tough.

Xandra Ramos, 31, and her husband Jigme Dukpa, 34

I’m lucky that gratitude is a huge part of my life already. Ever since childhood, my parents and my family have insisted we give thanks for the simple things we have; enough food to eat, clothes to wear, a home to live in and a healthy, complete family. I’ve been brought up to believe you can
never say thank you enough.

However, despite this, when I thought about my relationship with my husband prior to starting the gratitude exercises, I realised I might sometimes overlook all the wonderful things he does, and perhaps take him for granted. I’d never spent any real time thinking of reasons why I’m grateful to have him in my life, and I’d certainly never written any of them down.

When I started writing down my reasons to be grateful first thing in the morning, I was writing fairly general things. But as the days went on, I found myself becoming more creative and specific, which was way more fun! I really enjoyed having to think up new reasons to appreciate my husband, and it gave me a renewed sense of gratitude for having him in my life.

We’ve definitely noticed a difference in our relationship since I started the gratitude exercises. I’ve been able to use my list throughout the day to keep me focused and remind me of my reasons to be positive.

And for us as a couple, we’re making sure we do ‘couple things’ and really taking time to appreciate one another.

I’m definitely going to carry on doing the exercises.

By Catherine Harper

By Catherine Harper