The Practice of Gratitude – The Visual Method.
I’ve been taking photographs all my life. As a young girl my mum worked for a photo development lab, (yes I’m that old!). In the school holidays she would give me a disposable camera and would allow me to go and amuse myself with it. Almost immediately I became fascinated with how I could use that camera to capture moments and memories around me.
I’d photograph all sorts in my little world, from my parents laughing together to friends doing things in our everyday lives, to my brother pulling stupid faces, which incidentally became a fun bribe to use when he was older.
On occasion, I look back through these photographs and notice the only thing missing is the more modern day approach to photography, the obligatory food photograph.
This fascination hasn’t ever left me. Even to this day I am obsessed with capturing moments and memories. Only now I get to do that as a job. My fascination with this magic of photography, combined with my years of experience, gives me the opportunity to showcase the atmosphere at the concert, festival or comedy gig that I’m working at.
Now we are facing challenging times.
We’re stuck at home facing all those jobs we’ve put off for months, that room that needs decorating, the garden that’s been ignored. The kids are bickering, their school work is full of things we weren’t taught or we don’t remember it. Plus all the fun when they don’t want to eat that food that you’ve managed to scavenge from the local shop, despite feeling like you’ve achieved a hunter gatherer style challenge that Bear Grylls would be proud of. All the while social media is providing us with insights into the lives of people who make Mary Poppins and Super Nanny look like amateurs.
Their published daily routines are something the education secretary would applaud and should even consider implementing them in schools across the country. Whilst for some of us, if we could convince our children to stop arguing and focus, we’d be lucky to achieve a quarter of that list we saw Susan post. Then we see that the helpful post types still have time to bake that bread, learn that TikTok dance, make that impressive meal from scratch, bake that cake and decorate it to a standard that would earn a handshake from Paul Hollywood and have a decent nights sleep!
There’s celebrity support too. It’s been amazing to see the likes of Joe Wicks encouraging us to do something more when we get out of bed, other than binge on Netflix. Anthony Quinlan is putting the gym lovers through their paces with a high intensity daily work out. Gemma Merna is guiding us through a daily Yoga class.
David Walliams is entertaining the little ones with a daily story. Myleene Class is teaching music. Darcey Bussel is teaching us to dance. Jamie Oliver is teaching us to cook, albeit with ingredients we’d be lucky to see in the shops. Carol Vordeman is helping with Maths and there’s so much more out there. Yet for some of us, keeping up with all of this is a little overwhelming.
For some of us, we’ve had our lives turned upside-down and our only source of income has snatched away by a virus that is devastating lives across the globe. Some of us don’t have the luxury of being able to receive government support, and are oh too aware of the fact that the food banks were struggling before this pandemic. The lack of pasta on the shelves in the shops is a stark reminder that support there will be limited too. We are watching the daily update from our government praying that this will be over soon and for some of us, we’re praying that the government remember our existence and offer some sort of support to help us through this.
We’re currently in a situation that has allowed us the time to see all those things we’ve been too busy to notice, or have been conscientiously avoiding. Some of us can’t bring ourselves to get dressed, never mind start that veggie patch in the garden, or come close to achieving that rigid daily routine our Facebook friends are smashing life goals with, and potentially accomplishing world domination. For some of us it’s become really easy to focus on the negatives in our lives.
Writing down my thoughts and feelings doesn’t work for me, but creating visuals does.
There’s a wealth of mindfulness and daily gratitude themed advice out there. The kind that encourages you to clear your mind and write down all the things you’re grateful for, in that purposefully bought beautiful journal. For some people, this is working perfectly which is great. But just incase you’re like me and the concept of writing down your thoughts and feelings is a little ‘out there’, or you simply can’t get the time to consider that clear headspace to allow yourself to do that journaling, I’ve found that taking a photograph helps just as much as the idea of writing things down.
Think about this for a moment, we live in a world that’s a far cry from my childhood. There are tonnes of apps out there that support and demand for us to post pictures that showcase our lives. We photograph food, that gigantic spider on the wall, that selfie and all the other significant things around us in that very moment, just because we can.
So why not use these photos to create a visual version of our own purposefully bought beautiful journal. Use these opportunities to change our narratives visually to the advantage of our own mental health? Why not create our own visual version of daily gratitude?
Now don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we all start posting our inner most thoughts and feelings on social media. No one needs a surge of ‘inbox me hun’ type comment invoking photographs. But we can start to look at all the positives in our lives and capture them in an everlasting photograph, reminding us that it’s not all bad.
A favourite app of mine is Day One. It’s a journalling app that allows for you to add dates, notes and imagery that encapsulates your daily thoughts and creates a digital set of memories. The best bit is that this app is just for you, so Susan can’t comment.
Where to start.
My top tip is for you to try to see the good things around you, regardless of how insignificant you think they are to others and make a point of taking a photograph of that moment. It could be as simple as your morning coffee. Enjoying thirty seconds of peace in the sunshine in your garden before the kids start bickering again. Noticing a lovely flower, that wonderful bit of nature or the sky being clear on your daily walk. Being able to find that food you like for lunch, or even buying toilet rolls without having to go to fifteen shops, which in this current climate that moment deserves photographing, framing and hanging on the walls.
For me, nothing gives me a better sense of clarity than my favourite tunes playing loud through my headphones, especially during my daily walk. It gives me the opportunity to escape the noise from the outside world, and the everyday stress and anxiety, which allows me to see the small things that make it all worth while. Whilst I’m in that moment I take a photograph and later I add it to my visual diary. It helps remind me that the day hasn’t been that bad, even on the days where nothing seems to go right. Taking that moment helps me manage the overwhelming feelings that anxiety and stress creates, especially during lockdown.
Whatever it is that gives you even the tiniest bit of positivity in your day, photograph it and keep it somewhere for you to easily access whenever your day becomes that little bit overwhelming. Or when you have a moment at in the day, take the opportunity to look back through your photographs. Doing this visual gratitude exercise daily will help you look for the positives in what is for some, an incredibly overwhelming time.
It’s up to you if you want to keep them to yourself in your own personal digital journal, or even go old school and print out your photographs to put into a beautiful photograph album. However if it is something note worthy, post it on your social media and share your daily joy. Then accept and trust the compliments that it brings you.
Finally be kinder to yourself. Just do you, whatever it is that you can manage to achieve in a day and be proud of that. In reality those that are continuously posting on social media aren’t truly living their lives and enjoying the moment.
If you would like to learn photography, check out my courses here.