Be more grateful, be more creative

My latest book, Create or Hate, is not too far away from launching. In it I talk about the self-imposed internal barriers, which I choose to call ‘Hate’, that can hold us back from achieving our true creative potential.

There are a number of strategies that can move you along the road to becoming a Creator and not a Hater. One of those is building empathy, which I talked about recently on the blog. Another way you can get there is by being more grateful for the things that occur in your life and towards the people you interact with.

So let’s find out how being more grateful will make you less hateful and therefore more creative.

What is gratitude?

Put simply, gratitude is about being thankful for the people and things currently in your life. It’s about counting your blessings and giving praise to the simple things, no matter how trite and mundane they may seem to someone else. Ultimately it’s about changing your mindset from one of negativity at what your life lacks to one of thankfulness at the abundance of what you already have.

Gratitude: the great negativity killer

Often life is simply about perceptions. Letting negativity, and it’s mistress Hate, taint your perception of people and situations, is a sure-fire way hold you back from walking your creative journey.

Having a blindly negative outlook is one of the favourite self-sabotaging tricks that Hate likes to play on us. It can be driven by a lack of empathy, which I’ve already discussed. A lot of hate driven negativity also stems from a lack of gratitude.

Having a lack of gratitude will lead directly to negativity, which is the currency of Hate. If you can become more grateful, you will become less hateful and therefore more creative.

So what are some of the warning signals that you’re wallowing in an ungrateful mindset?

Don’t hate the maker

I’m sure everyone has had the misfortune of dealing with a serial complainer who sees everything they encounter through ungrateful eyes; too hot, too expensive, too loud, too busy, too crap – ungratefulness and negativity, hate’s currency, eating away inside all at once.

When people complain about something someone has made, it’s often the case that they are just simply not grateful enough for the amount of time and effort that went into making it. You can still display gratitude for the time and effort spent creating something without having to like or buy the end product itself.

Here’s a little gratitude exercise you might like to try the next time you’re tempted to complain about the $5 you paid for your coffee. I’m sure we’ve all been there at least once! So before any chance of hate driven negativity kicks in, stop yourself and consider all of the steps that have gone into making it.

Seeds are planted (in the perfect environment), the seedlings are replanted into individual pots, watered regularly and shaded from bright sunlight before being re-planted in soil. Three to four years later the trees bear fruit known as cherries. These are generally hand-picked by people often in poorer countries who pick 100-200 cherries a day, and are paid based on their haul. The cherries are processed using a complicated, mostly-manual method of wet or dry processing. The beans are hulled, polished, graded and sorted before being packaged and loaded onto ships before being exported. The beans are roasted locally via an expensive process to bring out the oils that unlock the coffee flavour. They are then transported to coffee shops, ground on-site, expertly brewed and delivered to you hot and fresh by well-paid local staff, in a matter of minutes. $5 doesn’t really seem like such of a big deal now does it?

Gratitude helps kill self-pity

A lack of gratitude is also a fertile breeding ground for wallowing in self-pity; if you are constantly in a state of complaint about the unfairness of life you are poisoning the seeds of creativity waiting to flourish inside you. And they’ll remain dormant until you start addressing the root causes. Such as a lack of gratitude. Become more grateful and you’ll feel less of a powerless victim and more of a creative go-getter.

Up with gratitude, down with anger and stress

Life is often hectic, and everyone has trigger points that can send them over the edge of irrationality into a seething ball of fury…hello road rage! This is often the result of smaller bouts of stress and anger building up and needing an escape valve.

Gratitude is a great way to help kill anger and stress. It’s very hard to be grateful and angry or stressed at the same time, which means gratitude directly increases relaxation – the state where creativity thrives. As well as being more creative, you’ll also be much less likely to become overheated at the smallest trigger point..”you looking at me!?”

Keep in mind that upping your gratitude (and your empathy for that matter) should form part of a holistic approach to reducing your stress levels. There’s plenty of other practical ways to become more relaxed and up your creativity, which I also cover off in Create Or Hate.

Meditate daily if you want, go on a holiday, or surf, go for a walk or take a shower. Do whatever you need to do to relax, and your creative juices will flow.

Stanford researchers found that going for a walk can improve creativity by as much as 60%.

Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist and creativity expert, found that 72% of people experience new ideas in the shower. He commented: “people are more creative in the shower than they are at work. The relaxing, solitary and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.”

But back to gratitude as a stress killer; as the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, so change your mindset by becoming more grateful and you’ll reduce your anger and stress levels and start seeing the world through less negative eyes!

Other benefits of being more grateful

In his book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, pioneering gratitude researcher Robert Emmons concluded that practising gratitude can increase a person’s happiness levels by up to 25%.

Dr. Emmons’ research also demonstrated that those who are in touch with their inner-gratitude tend to be healthier, have more effective social relationships and are more resilient to adversity than those of an ungracious mindset. And all of this is in addition to the aforementioned benefits that gratitude brings to one’s creative output!

So if getting more grateful is such a no-brainer, what can we do to get us more in touch with our grateful side?

Strategies for becoming more grateful and less hateful

In Create or Hate I detail I number of things you can do to see the world through more grateful eyes. Here are a few that have helped me along my journey:

  • It’s easy to neglect being thankful for the good things already present in your life.  A daily gratitude practice can help with this. Just list off a few things you are grateful for each day and why. Imagine life without the most basic things you take for granted, and say to yourself, I’m grateful for x because of y. A gratitude journal, or a note taking app or a notebook or even just saying them out loud can work.
  • Some people hold out on feeling gratitude until they reach ‘big ticket’ achievements in life; house, family, promotion, material wealth. Part of this is societal, and the mistaken belief that joy can only exist with these things present. Be more grateful for the daily, smaller things in your life and you’ll be well on the way to blowing this happiness conundrum out of the water.
  • It also helps to notice when others aren’t being grateful, so you can get constant reminders of the importance of gratitude. I have zero tolerance for ungrateful people. I spot it a mile away, which makes it much easier to spot in myself.
  • James Altucher talks about attacking ‘Difficult Gratitude Problems’ or DGP as I now call it. Like a muscle, gratitude gets stronger when you train it on challenges rather than the obvious stuff. So you let difficult circumstances trigger gratitude. If you step in dog shit just say DGP and start thinking about all the wonderful things that result from dogs. If you can be grateful about stepping in shit, you are doing well!
  • Variety can also be a great driver of gratitude. I find living by the beach helps with gratitude because it always looks different and smells different, so it forces you to take notice. If you can build variety into your life with your routine or with travel, or if you can work on becoming more observational, you will have more gratitude.
  • Another trick that works well is catching yourself saying ‘I have to do x’ and just changing it to ‘I get to do x’. Most of us don’t really have to do anything, we normally choose to do something. And more often than not, when you think about the choices you are making, you feel good about the opportunities you get every day.
  • Helping out people who are less fortunate can make you feel more grateful, and realize how fortunate you are.
  • Have a week off complaining, or at least a day. Stop yourself every time you complain about anything and just stop and move on. You will be forced to think about something differently and you’ll break the negative thinking.
  • Some people like watching the news to remind themselves to be grateful for their own life. I personally don’t ever watch the news because it’s filled with too much fear and negativity and I don’t want that creeping into my mind. But do what works for you.

Create or Hate is now live, to get a copy please visit createorhate.com.

  • Emmons and Kaufman in the one article. Epic!

  • Sean Kilpatrick

    Great article! More people need this mindset.

  • Awesome Dan. “I get to…” or “I choose to…” versus “I have to…” is a great mindset!

  • Interesting perspective, can’t wait to read it all.
    I think too that complaining regularly is not helping.
    Keeping complaining is a good symptom that something is going wrong. It could be just that you need a break or turn to something else. It can’t be a permanent attitude for a creator.

    Registered ..

  • Fantastic article, Dan. The context point is a ripper – the $5.00 coffee – and understanding the journey something (or someone) takes to arrive in front of us.

  • Hi Dan,
    This is a great article. Thanks for putting it together for us.

  • Anja Cook

    Great article Dan!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Dan – while I wholeheartedly embrace your message, I cannot really support your example of the $5 cup of coffee. Do you really think that much more than a miniscule fraction of that ends up in the hands of the grower? Most of it ends up in the hands of the coffee shop landlord!

    Another thing, I have seen an example of a fake feel-good gratitude. 20 something years ago I was running a wilderness lodge near Cooktown and we had a dozen or so merchant bankers staying for the night. They were on a motorbike run to the tip of Cape York. These guys were mid to late 20s, all millionaires and not hesitant to brag about themselves. With the exception of one guy, a farmers son from WA, they were the biggest collection of rude ass-holes ever to spend a night under my roof.

    The next morning, one of these bright masters of the universe thought it would be cool to “steal” the expedition leader’s wallet, which had about $2000 in it for tour expenses, and hide it. When the “theft” was discovered, I and my staff were put through an awful grilling until the idiot merchant-wanker realised that the “joke” had gone too far and the culprit produced the wallet.

    10 minutes later, these fine fellows were in a huddle in the middle of the garden. I was puzzled until I realised that it was a prayer circle. In a thoroughly ostentatious manner, they were thanking the heavens for allowing them to be so fortunate and wonderful !

    Their average bonus was probably as much as most mortals earn in several years. I could not but help thinking that they were a pack of cynical hypocrites.

    Gratitude is more than mouthing it. For me gratitude is in the recognition of the wonder of all those micro-moments of the day – when something lovely happens like the flash of the blue wings of a Ulysses butterfly or a puff of cloud sliding down the green jungle slope of the mountain behind my house.

    You absolutely right, of course, that it is a wonder that we can drink a cup of coffee in a comfortable cafe at the “bottom” end of the world, made from the coffee beans grown in the mountains of a dozen or more different countries – and it only costs $5. That is indeed astonishing.