How Practicing Gratitude in Your Daily Life can Improve Happiness and Photography
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
—WILLIAM ARTHUR WARD
LEARNING 3D FOR THE FIRST TIME
When photographers think about how they want their careers to be identified, words like successful, sought-after, and award-winning often top the list. But how often do we prioritize words like happy, content, or grateful? Is that even important?
As photographers trying to make our way in the world, we spend a great deal of time concerned with things like skill acquisition, networking, marketing, and mastery. We put in hundreds and thousands of hours' worth of effort because we recognize the importance of those skills and abilities.
But the hustle can become consuming, and as we prioritize things that will make us better photographers, we forget about things that will make us happier people.
You may be thinking, “I’ll be a happy photographer when I become a better photographer.” But the problem with that statement is there is always another level of mastery to achieve, more skills to acquire, and bigger jobs to chase.
And, all the while, your mental health could be suffering. Would you believe that being a happier photographer could also make you a better photographer?
“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.”
— RALPH WALDO EMERSON
WHAT IS GRATITUDE?
The Mirriam Webster Dictionary defines gratitude as “the state of being grateful.” It is a warm-hearted appreciation for and recognition of the good things in our lives. People often feel grateful for friends and family, unexpected blessings, and gifts. Gratitude is more than just feeling good; it has surprising health benefits.
HOW DOES GRATITUDE IMPACT HAPPINESS?
The relationship between gratitude and happiness has been well documented. In the article, “In Praise of Gratitude,” in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the author states, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
People who practice gratitude report feeling happier with their lives in general. When we take the time to recognize the good things in our lives, we realize how much we have to be grateful for. Once we start taking the time to notice things to be grateful for, we find those things more and more.
This is because of a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS.) This system is essentially a filter that helps us make sense of the world around us. We build, change, and prime this filter by telling it what is important. If we pay attention to dogs, we're telling our RAS that dogs are important. If we pay attention to things that make us angry, we're telling our RAS that things that make us angry are important. The RAS will then seek and prioritize what you teach it to focus on. Essentially, you get more of what you pay attention to.
If all you focus on are the struggles, you’ll see struggles everywhere, because you’re telling your RAS struggles are important. If you tell your Reticular Activating System that opportunities are everywhere, you’ll soon start to see them around every corner.
How can photographers benefit from this interesting piece of neurology and psychology?
HOW TO LEVERAGE GRATITUDE
People are social creatures, and we are highly attuned to those around us. We know what it feels like to be around people who are constantly negative and have a complaint for every situation. We also know what it feels like to work with someone who is happy, positive, and affirming.
With the positive correlation between gratitude and happiness, photographers who practice gratitude will not only live happier lives but will have a greater impact on the people they work with. They’ll be more likely to get hired, see more positive networking opportunities, and find their careers more fulfilling.
What is a practical way photographers use gratitude to be happier and healthier?
START A GRATITUDE PRACTICE
You may have seen people on social media participating in a daily gratitude practice. They’ll share a few things in their lives they are grateful for, and their lists include everything from getting to work safely to spending a few moments with an old friend.
You don’t have to make a Facebook post about what you’re grateful for, but something as simple as keeping a journal can prime your Reticular Activating System to start noticing more things to be happy about.
Find a time during your day where you can take a few moments to notice the good things in your life and write them down. Start with writing down three things you're grateful for, and graduate to more if you wish. These good things are anything that makes you grateful, from a few moments of sunshine or petting a dog, to a huge sale or finally mastering a light setup you’ve been working on.
Write your gratitude in a journal daily for as long as you can, and read back over your gratitude list often. As you practice gratitude, you’ll see how much in your life there is to be grateful for, and train your brain to notice these things more often.
Once you’re ready, you may also find that expressing gratitude openly to people who positively affect your life also increases happiness. Some people choose to express their gratitude in person, some give compliments, and others may write a gratitude letter. No matter how you choose to approach it, sharing your gratitude with the people in your life is worth the effort.
It is a small thing to do that only takes a few moments of your time but has a significant impact on your life.
Many people who practice gratitude daily find their mental health improves and their relationships improve, which often results in benefits to other areas such as business. This practice can help us see new opportunities more clearly, discover the benefit in networking, help us become more valuable to our clients, and assist us in getting over the hurdles that would have seemed insurmountable before.
The benefits of gratitude are not only good for photography but make us happier, healthier, and more satisfied.
If you’re going to be a photographer, why not be a happy photographer?