From the Principal

I was involved in an interesting conversation over the weekend where the topic meandered around a bit, before ending up being about the way people perceive the world, and how that in turn this impacts their attitude to life. There was a general consensus amongst the group that there was a greater need in our society for people to be grateful for the things they have, rather than focussing on what we don’t have.

Following this conversation, I read an article by Catherine Robertson, a business development executive with 15 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry, a part-time Reiki Practitioner with a healing practice on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and an experienced public speaker. Her personal story of transformation is featured in the book Heart to Heart: The Path to Wellness: 43 Inspiring True Stories of Creating Vibrant Health and Harmony in Body, Mind & Spirit. Much of what of written is taken or adapted from this article.

It seems that being grateful doesn’t come naturally to most of us, we’re not hard-wired to think this way. If we listen to ourselves and the small talk we enter into, it appears that we often spend far too much time nit-picking or grumbling about our lives or the things in our lives. There appears to be a natural tendency to focus on all the areas in our life where we’re experiencing pain or hardship.

Sometimes it’s not having enough money, the pressure we are under, the business of our lives or the crazy commute we have to endure in heavy traffic to get to work each day. Whatever the reason, it seems to be human nature to focus on what’s going wrong in our lives or to dwell on what we don’t have, leading to a sense of powerlessness over how we feel.

The trap this can lead us into is that we can, with the support of our friends and colleagues, wallow in a life of misery or self-pity. The saying “misery loves company” has a great deal of truth in it as there’s always people around us to indulge in our complaining.

So in the wise words of Wallace D. Wattles we must “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Or share in the wisdom of Buddha who suggests “A noble person is mindful and thankful of the favours he receives from others.”

Dr Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California and author of Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier has been researching gratitude for over eight years and states:

“Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished. Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms, and those who practice it will experience significant improvements in several areas of life including relationships, academics, energy level and even dealing with tragedy and crisis.”

The frustrating things about following such a pattern in life is that there is so much scientific evidence and research suggesting that having an attitude of gratitude has so many positive impacts. In spite of this the practice of gratitude is not a widely adopted habit within our ‘quick-fix, instant gratification’ society.

Phrases like “It’s not fair”, “Why is this happening to me?” and “Is this really all there is to life?” are commonly heard in conversations all about us with a sense that the authors of such phrases are helpless to do anything about their situations.

With the clear evidence and the simple fact that we need more positivity in the world, all of us should consider reflecting on all the positives in our lives and be grateful for what we have rather than focussing on the negatives in our worlds. The fact that most of us have a roof over our heads, get enough to eat on a daily basis, have jobs, live in a peaceful country where we enjoy real freedoms. Our children have access to a good quality education, we enjoy one of the best medical services in the world which we all have access to, and all this before we take into account the great living standards we enjoy, it is fairly clear that we have much to be thankful for.

If you were ever wanting to see what having an attitude of gratitude looks like I encourage you to read Kurt Fearnley’s acceptance speech (included below) for his nomination for Australian of the Year award. It is a powerful and moving speech delivered by a humble and outstanding man, who would have many things in life to grizzle about and yet he is a wonderful ambassador for what having a positive attitude can do.

Kurt Fearnley’s NSW nomination as Australian of the Year acceptance speech.

I now have two regrets in my life.

One was not preparing a speech for my wedding day, the second is obviously not preparing a speech for this moment.

Although I may feel unworthy right now I’ll do everything I can to justify this moment and whatever lies ahead.

I’m a proud Australian, and I’m a proud man with a disability.

I am grateful that I’ve had the privilege to wear the green and gold for 20 years now.

(I compete in) one of the most solitary sports in the world, where you constantly have your head down.

For the first time, I think, the last time I got to wear that green and gold, I looked around and realised a lot of people came together, and I was able to talk about some things I feel grateful to have brought to the stage. Now that I finally now get the chance to look back, I don’t see the racing really, I don’t see the medals … the medals are sitting in a Huggies box in my kids’ room.

You see the moment where my dad found me crawling around the field playing footy, while he watched the Aus Day 10km race on Australia Day and saw these gladiators in wheelchairs and he picked me up off the footy field and ran me inside and he showed me what was out there for me.

I see a principal who demanded that I receive a public education and fought for me and my family when we didn’t even know a fight was there.

I see a teacher that whispered to me that I was more than a HSC mark and that the desire that we can build in a person is the most valuable thing that’s there.

I see a coach that told me that he thought I could be the best in the world and he was willing to take every single step with me.

I see person after person that invested in me through kindness and love and generosity, a town of 200 who bought me my first wheelchair, when my family begged for them not to, they said “Stay out of it, it’s between us and the boy.”

I am the culmination of generous moment after generous moment, kind moment after kind moment and that is the glue that holds this country together.

I am a proud husband to Sheridan, and a proud father to my Amelia who, Heather [Lee – the NSW Senior Australian of the Year], will be celebrating her first birthday while you’re celebrating at your 92nd on Saturday.

I hope that she gets to live 92 powerful years as you have.

And to Jarrod [Wheatley – the NSW Young Australian of the Year] and Sophie [Smith – the NSW Local Hero], I will really look forward to sharing these next few months and sharing your journey as well.

I will take every one of those generous moments that people have bombarded on me and I will carry them down to Canberra on Australia Day, and I will cautiously represent every single one of those people and every single one of those moments.

Thank you Premier [Gladys Berejiklian], and thank you to every single person who has carried me for the last 37 years, but specifically the 20 where I have had the pleasure to represent this country.

I feel absolutely overwhelmed and privileged to represent my state down in Canberra on January 25.’

Forbes Magazine published an article titled “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude” they included opening the door to more relationships, improving physical and psychological health. These measures improve empathy and reduces aggression, allow us to sleep better, improve self-esteem and increase mental strength.

Having a sense of gratitude can send a message out to the universe to say “more of this please”, which then causes the positive experiences in our life to flourish and grow.

As a result, gratitude can impact and transform your life in so many ways:

  • Contentment becomes stronger than dissatisfaction
  • Peace becomes stronger than frustration
  • Appreciation becomes stronger than criticism and complaining
  • And resilience to life’s challenges increases

Overall, life just becomes sweeter and more fun through practicing gratitude. And the happier and more contented we are, the kinder we become to those around us – meaning all that come into contact with us begin to feel the benefits too.

I am sure there will be some of you asking “What have I got to be grateful for?” I think this is too often the mindset of our kids. Whilst this is a common question I think it is one that has to be challenged and time taken to highlight all the wonderful gifts we enjoy here in a country such as Australia.

It’s true that there are some days and some circumstances in life when it can feel a little harder to tap into that reservoir of gratitude than others, especially when hardship, illness or even death may be present. But whilst these things may make it harder to practice gratitude, we have to remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean impossible, and there will always be things that you’ll be able to identify and create a sense of appreciation for each day.

It can be as simple as “Today I’m grateful that I’m alive”, or “Today I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge when so many in the world are going without”.

It is not a matter of kidding yourself that thinking positively will make things go away, rather simply direct your focus away from dwelling on what’s not going well in life, and focus on the positives, whilst still acknowledging the existence of the painful or hard things we are dealing with.

Rob Brennan