If I could persuade everyone to adopt just one habit, it would be a daily gratitude practice. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a practice that transform’s people lives on every level.
Research has shown that people who practise gratitude consistently benefit from an astonishing range of benefits. These include everything from a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure to feeling more joyful, more optimistic and with higher self-worth. They also feel less lonely and isolated.
While it’s fairly easy to feel grateful when everything is coming up roses for us, what about when you’re battling two chronic diseases that have left you bed-ridden and unable to function? That was the case with Holly Bertone, who I chatted to on the new episode of Wellness Unwrapped.
Holly “hangs her hat” on the fact that gratitude really does build fortitude. She spent 25 years rising through the ranks of consulting and federal government service before her failing health shattered her corporate dreams. Since then, she has leaned into her path of true purpose as the founder of Pink Fortitude. As a breast cancer and autoimmune survivor, she helps women to view their chronic illness as a gift and to unwrap their resilience.
Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:
- Gratitude blocks toxic emotions. Gratitude and negative emotions cannot occupy the same space in your brain – so the more that you practise gratitude, the more it will crowd out negative emotions.
- In research, gratitude has been shown repeatedly to help people who are suffering from PTSD following profoundly traumatic events in their lives (such as surviving the 9/11 attacks).
- In order to be grateful for things outside of ourselves, we need to be grateful for ourselves first. That’s why self-care and showing appreciation to ourselves are so important. Once that is firmly in place, we can start to be grateful to others and to the bigger collective.
Whatever challenges you are currently facing in life, this conversation will empower you to start reaping the remarkable benefits of gratitude.
Take Holly’s 2-minute gratitude quiz here to find the practice that works for your own, individual personality. You’ll also find lots of wonderful free resources on her website.
You’ll find the full transcript of our conversation below and can listen to our conversation here.
[Please note: this is a computer generated transcription of this conversation]
SG: So, Holly, I’m so happy to be talking with you about what is one of my very favourite subjects, if not my very favourite subject, which is gratitude. And I think this is something that I talk about constantly on social media with my clients. Holly, tell us a little bit about your backstory. How did you come to be so passionate about gratitude?
HB: Oh, and Suzy, thank you so much for having me on the show. I just I really appreciate it and, you know, and my heart really is full of gratitude. And I look forward to connecting with all your viewers and listeners. I really like to start kind of before because that helps to set the stage, because I was that the quintessential overachiever, right? So we live in Alexandria, Virginia, which is right outside of Washington, D. C. In the United States, and I was the chief of staff for a federal government agency handling national security issues. There’s a really high ranking position. It was one of those agencies they make TV shows about, like it was a dream come true. And I was also an Xterra tri athlete. So it’s, um, a swim, mountain bike and trail run. And yeah, I travelled everywhere, like I just had this amazing life and it was perfect. Or so I thought.
And then on my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I had actually felt the lump on my own. I thought it was weird, but I was like, yeah, let’s just get it checked out and you know, it’s I think it’s deep, deep, deep down that pit of your stomach, like I felt the lump and I was like, no, you know, And it was small. It was four centimetres, which is actually really small. Um, but yeah, they diagnosed me with breast cancer on my 39th birthday. Happy birthday to me, you know? And I always say, like most girls get roses or earrings, right? Like my gift was breast cancer.
So that’s how we started. And then two days later, the gentleman that I was living in sin with my boyfriend proposed. So in two days and 48 hours, it was: you have breast cancer, and will you marry me? Wow, that’s an intense couple of days. I went through surgery and then chemo and the radiation. So I did all the things, and then we actually got married 10 days after treatment was over. And so I was still I was sick and bald on my wedding day, Like there was a picture, it kind of went viral. It’s him kissing my bald head right before we went to the justice of the peace. And his son was, I think, six or seven at the time. So, yeah, it was just kind of crazy, like just such a whirlwind year of going through treatment and then getting married and yeah, so okay, so treatment’s over. I married my husband.
Then actually, so this was back in 2011. So he’s a green beret. Um, so he actually deployed. So I’m home. I’m alone, I’m recovering and I’m not getting better. Like, I just keep getting sicker and sicker and sicker. And I go to my doctors and they’re like, Oh, you’ve been through chemo. You’re in menopause. Your body has been through a lot. Of course you’re going to be sick. And I’m like, Now, see, a year ago I was out racing Xterra and I can’t get out of bed now. And all the girls in support groups are running these like 5K pink ribbon races. And I’m like, I can’t get out of bed. Something is really wrong. And it took about a year. But then I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune condition. And, it’s the auto immune component of hypothyroidism. So it’s like a really slow and sluggish thyroid. And, um, the two top favourite symptoms is waking and extreme fatigue. So first cancer wasn’t enough. Then I got hit with that, so it was kind of like this 1 2, you know, kind of punch to my health and honestly, and I’m not saying this to I’m not saying this to diminish anything about auto immune or Hashimoto’s but where I was at that moment in time, when I got my diagnosis, I was like, fine, give me my pill. Let’s get better right in my head. I thought that I was going to take a pill, and I was going to get better, right?
Compared to cancer. And little did I know that autoimmune is kind of the gift that just gives every single day. And, um yeah, and the subsequent years, um, really had some pretty bad blows. The debilitating fatigue was the worst, but there was a lot of migraines.
Um, a lot of IBS issues. Um, I call them space shuttle launches because that was kind of what it reminded me of going to the bathroom. And I remember at work, um, you know, back when I was working like I would literally, I mean, because it would come on so fast, right? And I would get up and just sprint to the bathroom and everyone knew, I mean, after everything I had been through at that point, they’re like, get out of Holly’s way because we are not having any accidents, right?
And I think I just kind of got to a point where I was like, this is you know, this is life. But then I just started reading and I started reading about, like, root cause healing and just kind of all natural approaches to healing and stuff like that. And I was like, well, what would happen if I went gluten free? What would happen if I went dairy free? What would happen if I start eliminating the toxins? So I started doing all the things and the needle started to move, which was amazing, right?
But then back in 2017, just kind of out of the blue, my health hit rock bottom for the third time. And just the extreme fatigue just really flatlined me to a point where I was missing a lot of work. So in the US, they have what’s called FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act. And, um, any employer over 50 employees you have like you are legally protected if you take leave for being sick or for caring for a sick family member.
The U K has similar laws as well, and I was protected. But somehow they found a way to just make my life absolutely miserable, and I was forced to resign.
SG: So obviously, something has happened since 2017 to get to this place where I’m chatting to you today. So what then happened?
HB: So I had this, like little hobby blog called Pink Fortitude. And it was just this fun little hobby blog that was like wellness stuff. And it was fun and I loved it, and it was great. And I had this awesome community. And let’s back up one more second. When my mother was pregnant with me back in 1971 she was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, which is a very rare adrenal disorder. Back in 1971 like there was no doctor Google, right? The doctors were just like I don’t know what to do they didn’t think she was even going to live. They didn’t think I was going to be born. They didn’t even know anything. And so she had her own share of health challenges throughout her entire life.
She kept saying: It builds fortitude. It builds fortitude. That was her life mantra, and I always kind of thought that was like, especially after my own health challenges. I kind of adopted that fortitude thing thinking the it that she was referring to was kind of the health challenges, like going through the challenges in life, builds fortitude, and it was kind of on this journey, and it really wasn’t a light switch or anything like that. It was just over time that I realised that she was referring to was gratitude.
It was living this life that every day is a gift, regardless of what happens to you, and every day should be filled with just happiness and joy, regardless of how you feel. And she passed in 2019 and literally she was one of those. She lived every single day to the fullest because she didn’t know when it was going to be her last, and this was my chance to, you know, while she was alive, I was able to take her legacy and share it with so many other women.
But especially now that she’s passed to be able to really dig into the meaning of what she met with living, that life of gratitude and happiness and how that builds fortitude through the challenges through the storms, all the health challenges, everything like that and to be able to just take that legacy and share it with others. And can I just tell you her last week, like she was literally sunsetting? I mean, she had nine lives. She should have died more times than she did. But when that last week when she passed, she got a mammogram.
She played bridge and she went to lunch with her friends like she was literally, like telling my dad, you know, I don’t feel good. I just you know, I think this actually might be it. And she’s still out doing the things until she, you know, is physically embedded with hospice for the day, like it was crazy. That’s just how she lived and her legacy and how many people. She touched her entire life. I was like, yeah, this has to carry on.
SG: You know, you’ve given me goose pimples, actually, with that story, I think that is so incredibly moving. And what a beautiful legacy. I mean, what a wonderful thing to leave in the world and to be known for despite everything that she went through is that she was I mean, obviously, I never met her. I just met you and on Zoom. But I really got a picture of this incredible woman and how she has inspired you. And then you are now going on to inspire so many people around the world. So I just think that is so special.
HB: Oh, thank you. Thank you. So yeah. So now I just shout it from the rooftops because I believe, you know, in in every single fibre of my being, that gratitude is the best way to build fortitude after health challenges shatter your world, period.
SG: And how has that manifested in your own wellbeing? Do you feel different? And what? Firstly, what is gratitude to you when you talk about that? How are you actually practising it? Is there something that you’re doing every day?
HB: We can get into this a little more a little later. But especially with my community, with individuals with health challenges, chronic illness, cancer, autoimmune community, even those who aren’t diagnosed, it’s hard to be grateful when you’re feeling all the things right? Because a diagnosis isn’t just a diagnosis. It’s not just give me my pill and I’m going to be fine. A diagnosis or a lack thereof is being dismissed by your doctors or maybe not being taken seriously. It’s trying to figure out how you’re going to pay the medical bills. It’s strained relationships. It’s trying to take care of your family. It’s people leaving your life because you’re different, right? It’s not being what you used to be, so it’s not just a diagnosis. It’s all the things that compound, and it’s really hard to feel grateful when you’re in that place. And for me, you know, I just kind of did what everyone said to do, right? Start a gratitude list, right? And I’m a list maker, so I was like, easy, right. I will make a list all day long. I like to cross it off. I’m the person that if I don’t have it on my list and I do it, I write it on my list just so I can cross it off.
I’m that person. Hello? Give me like a high five, virtual high five if you are listening and that’s you. Yes. So I started there because that’s where I thought you should start. And I was like, This is great but there’s gotta be more to it and I really I jumped into the research. I, you know, listen to my community. I read so many books and just kind of walked my own journey. And over the course of about three years, I realised that gratitude isn’t what you do. It’s who you are. Let that sink in. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
So it’s not. I mean, and it’s a great and I’m not saying list aren’t great. Right, lists are great. It’s a great place to start, and we can even get into why lists, are great and why they’re not great. But your gratitude practise should begin with, like that simple step of let’s start making a list. Let’s make it easy. How do we get started? Let’s make a list of something I’m grateful for, but that journey should become gratitude is now who I am in every fibre of my being that I can wake up and open my eyes and regardless of how I feel, regardless of if this is a day that I can’t even make it out of bed if I can’t even get a shower, I am still gonna feel that song in my heart, right? And that’s skip in my step because I am grateful for being alive today.
SG: Yeah, wow. Uh, there’s so much that I want to unpack there. And I think the first thing says that it is a lot easier, obviously, to be grateful for everything when everything is sparkly and lovely and the sun’s shining and you know we’re by the ocean, by the sea and and it’s so lovely, it is a lot easier to be grateful. Now I have never suffered from a chronic disease. So what you have just described, I have no personal experience of at all, and I cannot imagine. I mean, I try to put myself in your place, and I just can’t. It’s just completely beyond my scope of experience, and I think that’s why it’s incredibly powerful that you with, everything that you have gone through, which was pretty relentless and pretty extreme that you have come to this place of internalising gratitude and living and breathing gratitude, which is something that I have tried to develop I think going back about 10 years. That’s when I started with the gratitude practise, which for me was in the shape of a gratitude journal. So a very simple practise of writing down three things that I was grateful for, 3 to 5 things that was grateful for from that day. So I have a lot of journals going back over the years, and for me, that’s a very pivotal self-care practise, and I feel that I have become massively more grateful as a person because of doing that every day. So when I took a VIA character survey test. I first took it around maybe five or six years ago, and gratitude and love and hope were my sort of top strengths. I feel that’s because of the gratitude practise, and I kind of feel that if I would have taken it 10 years earlier, then perhaps that wouldn’t have been they would have been quite so high up. For me, it’s just an absolute pivotal part of my day of my life and how I see the world.
And I love what you said about waking up and being grateful because actually, I’m Jewish.
And when people who were quite observant, which I am, we wake up and say a prayer, which is called Modeh Anit, which is basically, modeh means grateful or thanks, and it’s basically thanking God that He restored our soul, that I’ve woken up basically that I’ve woken up on this day, and that’s literally the first thing I say every morning. And I think it’s just a really wonderful way to start the day with before we get into: Oh, I’ve got this meeting and that meeting and it’s raining outside, and it’s just thank you for me waking up today.
HB: Absolutely, it’s how I begin every single day.
SG: So what else have you done? How do you do to get to this place where you are now, where you do seem to have much more equanimity and acceptance? Would that be fair to say?
HB: Oh, absolutely, yeah. So can we get into the science real quick? Because I also think it’s important for people to understand and giving.
SG: Yes, I’ve read a lot of Robert Emmons’ work, and, um, there is so much science. So yes, let’s hit us with that Holly.
HB: Yeah, And I think part of it is I think it’s great to talk about gratitude, but I think it’s important to understand that it’s not just a bunch of woo woo stuff like there really is science behind it. And we can even, um, you talked a little bit about religion. It’s universal, right? So it doesn’t matter. Your religion, faith, spiritual practise, gratitude fits into that. And we can even get into that a little bit more. Um, but Dr Robert Emmons is the leading psychologist and the leading world specialist on gratitude, and there’s a few studies that are out there.
One in particular is my favourite because it really talks about the whole mind/body/spirit of gratitude. It was done by Psychology Today, and they looked at the seven scientific, proven benefits of gratitude. It opens the doors to relationships, and especially with a chronic illness when a lot of those relationships are strained, right? It improves physical health, which we all strive for, enhances empathy and reduces aggression. You sleep better, my favourite. Improve self esteem, improved psychological health. And then finally, it increases your mental strength.
Now that is actually the fortitude. And that’s why I you know, I hang my hat on the fact that gratitude does build fortitude. The other thing is, there was There was a 2008 study that revealed it was in the Journal of Research Psychology, and it revealed that gratitude actually blocks toxic emotions. So for that moment in time, when you are practising gratitude, gratitude and negative emotions cannot occupy the same space in your brain. So the more that you practise that elasticity of gratitude, the more it’s going to take up your brain, and the less those kind of negative, toxic emotions are going to be there.
SG: Yeah, I’m just going to interject there because just to add Holly, that how I always explain to people is that we can only think one thought at once so we can’t be in our head moaning, complaining about the phone call we had with our boss or whoever and at the same time, be grateful for our comfy bed and pillow. We can only think one thought at one time, and that’s why it’s such a lovely way to end the day. Especially when there’s so much anxiety in the air. You know, we’re still in the group of a global pandemic. Our numbers here like going through the roof. The news is just a nightmare. And I always say to people, you know, if the last thing you hear when you go to bed is news of death rates or whatever is on the news, it’s always bad. You know, it’s always negative. Or you’re looking at stroppy emails from your boss. I mean, just think what that does as you sleep, to go to bed with all that negativity. Whereas if you just take two minutes to write down, or even just thinking in your head of things that you’re grateful for from that day. It literally changes your body’s chemistry as you go to sleep. You sleep better, longer. It’s been proven by research, but also your body can fix itself because it’s in this beautiful state where it can do what it needs to do at night.
HB: Yeah, yeah, and, you know, and also, you know, kind of tying in the like. You’re talking like the Reticular Activating System. Like if you’re focusing on gratitude, gratitude is what you see. If you’re focusing on the news and the negativity and all of the stress that’s out there, then that’s what you’re going to be focused on, right?
So, um, to give you an example. Last year, my parked car, no one was hurt, was involved in a hit and run. So we got the insurance money and I was looking at a Hyundai Tucson but realised it was too big and they’re like, oh, we’ve got something smaller. It’s called a Kona. I was like I had never even heard of a Kona. Never heard of the car. So I’m now driving a Hyundai Kona and guess what I see everywhere I go. I see the Kona everywhere I go, a car that I didn’t even know existed before because it’s right in front of me. So the same thing.
You can either look at it from the negative side with all the negative stuff, with all the news, with all the stress. Or you can look at it from the positive side, right? You can either focus on the gratitude and have that come back to you or you can focus on the negative and have that come back to you. Everything comes back to us.
SG: As you said, whatever you focus on, you get more of.
HB: Yeah, so and I actually want to go into one more grouping of studies if that’s okay with you, just because I think it’s because I think it’s important because we’re all kind of coming into this from a different place and this grouping of studies. And I think it’s also important looking at where we are globally right now, after all these events, because there were four studies that looked at gratitude and PTSD and every single one, the results were the same was that gratitude increased resilience with individuals who had a collective traumatic event. 2003.
They studied 9/11 survivors in 2006. They studied Vietnam vets. The Vietnam War was what, like late sixties, early seventies, right? This was how many years later and they studied PTSD trauma in Vietnam vets, uh, 2009. They studied individuals in Indonesia after the earthquake and then 2017, they studied survivors from a school shooting in Seattle. So all four of these studies looked at group collective PTSD, and every single one saw an increase that increasing your gratitude practise increases your resilience. And I think that’s really important today because especially if there’s some high empaths out there like me.
You could be having a great day. And all of a sudden, like you just feel the collective of the world, right? And all the stress going on and, you know, with the pandemic and everything, and you know that we are going through this together and, you know, we’re kind of going through this pandemic trauma together. Um and, you know, looking at gratitude, right? Being able to build your resistance even through events such as these. So we’re going through this global pandemic together, and we’re feeling this collective stress, right?
Even if even if you’re one of the lucky ones that like, Oh, I’m doing great during this whole thing, like you’re still feeling that collective stress that we are feeling as a world. And how gratitude can help to increase that resilience during such a time as this for sure.
SG: And I noticed that very much myself. I was very grateful that I already had a gratitude practise in place when the pandemic hit because I didn’t have to then start it. You know, it was already very much part of my daily routine, and I could see immediately that it was insulating me from so much of the stress and anxiety that other people we’re feeling.
And, you know, it’s at times like those where you really think you know this stuff it really does work. As you say this is not just a kind of nice thing to do. It really does. And you talked then about some really heavy traumas that people have gone through I mean awful, awful stuff. And even after all those years on, their brains were still able once they were shown how to practise gratitude, I think it’s so hopeful, isn’t it, that even at that stage, they were able to reframe things and improve their levels of resilience and positivity.
HB: Can I can I share a story real quick? So you know and again, you and I kind of started at the same place like you make the list and you’re like, OK, you know, I’m making my list and I’m being grateful and, you know and I started there and I’m one of those people by nature. I don’t know if it’s a redhead thing, but I get a little fiery sometimes and you know, poor customer service. I get a little get a little wound up, right?
My husband and I, we’re driving across country, were actually coming back from Colorado, we’re somewhere in the middle of like Kansas or Kentucky. It was the middle of the summer. It was 90 degrees outside. I call ahead. There’s no hotels around like it was an hour away we get to the hotel. And this is like I want to say, seven o’clock at night. We’ve been driving since six in the morning. We are exhausted and we get to the hotel. It’s late. We had to wait to get to the manager who is running the front desk. Our room wasn’t ready. So we finally get to the room. It’s 90 degrees outside. The air conditioner isn’t just broken. It’s broken to the point of leaking all over the floor. So you walk on the floor and it’s like, squish, squish, squish. Right, That wet carpet. I don’t even want to think about the mould. That’s a whole different podcast, right? Um but so I was like, Oh, but you know what? It’s the only room they had. We’ve got a roof over our head. Then no towels. So we go down. So we go downstairs. I was going to go down. My husband went along because I think he was just, like, ready for some entertainment at that point, he was ready to see the redhead just head spinning like the split pea soup. Like me just going completely exorcist crazy on this guy. And we get downstairs and we’re like, do you have any towels? And he says, No. And my husband looks at me and I look at him and I just kind of paused for a second. And then I was like, Wait, wait. And he’s like, looking around and he pulls out like a washcloth. He’s like, This is all I have. Everything is in the dryer. He goes, my entire staff just went mutiny on me today, they all quit. And I’m trying to figure out how to get this place run by myself. And I take the wash cloth, which is now supposed to be our towel.
You to go back to the room. That’s probably 90 degrees itself in the squishy floor, you know, soaking wet. And I just looked at him and I said, Thank you so much. We’re just appreciative for a roof over our head and a good night’s sleep. And I’m sorry to hear you had a bad day. And I hope tomorrow is better for you.
SG: He must have been absolutely stunned by that response.
HB: And you know what? My husband, first of all my husband’s response was like, who are you and what did you do with my wife? Because he was waiting for the fire. And it just came out. It wasn’t like I planned it. It wasn’t like it wasn’t like I was like, Oh, let me set a stage of gratitude and go talk to the manager. Oh, no. I just went down and it just came out. It just came out automatically.
It’s at that moment that I realised again, gratitude goes from what you do to who you become. And it wasn’t just for me having not going to not lose my mind, right, to have a pleasant experience for me. It was this gentleman receiving gratitude on a day that was probably one of the worst of his life.
SG: You probably made his day and being able to take what little piece of happiness he had and give that to the next person he came across. So that’s beautiful, I love that story. Thank you so much for sharing it, Holly. And I’m actually, you’ve made me think now about a story also a hotel story which you just brought to mind.
So I’ll share it with you. And this was a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic. So it would have been exactly two years ago. I went down to London. I was doing a corporate seminar in the days when I did them live before the pandemic it and the previous night I was staying with my son Louis, who was working at the time in London, and his employer paid for him to stay in very expensive hotels. I mean, this was literally one of the poshest hotels in London, and I was sharing a room with him because I was down there for a night and I don’t know if it was because I was coming to the age of 50 but I suddenly started like snoring, which was just very, very irritating for me and everyone.
I don’t know why,something to do with the shape of my mouth. But anyway. And Louis said to me, you can share my room, Mum, but you’re not to snore. So I was like, OK, okay. And I’d taken, like, every possible implement that I could buy, every spray, every like thing to strap under my nose, like the whole lot. And it was this beautiful, comfy bed in an exquisite room. I mean, it really was in this five star hotel. And then it must have been about two o’clock in the morning, I get this pillow thrown at me, stop snoring Mum, stop snoring. And I was like, I knew that he had to get up really early to go to work. And I thought, what am I gonna do? I can’t go and book another room in this hotel, it’s £500 for the night. And I thought, what am I gonna do? I can’t keep him awake. So I took my duvet, I took my pillow and I just went into the bathroom and lay down on this very, very, very hard tile floor.
And now here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I think if I would have done that 10 years ago, I would have been fuming and thinking, I can’t believe I’m in this top hotel and I’m lying on a bloody bathroom floor and it’s really hard. And how the hell am I going to go to sleep and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I can’t believe this is happening to me? And you know what? I lay down on the floor and I thought, Thank God I’m in a warm room.
It’s warm. Thank God I’m safe. There are people just outside the door of this hotel who are sleeping on the street and.I’m doing this for one night, and this is their life, you know, and they don’t have this, do they? And they don’t have the heated floor and they don’t have this lovely pillow and they’re not safe behind a door, and that’s literally what I thought. I literally ran through all the things that I was grateful for, and I went to sleep. I was able to go to sleep. It wasn’t the most comfortable night sleep. But I did go to sleep. And I really thought at that point something shifted in me that I can lie here on this floor, being so uncomfortable and just feel gratitude.
HB: Yeah. Oh, that’s beautiful. Oh, my goodness.
SG: So I wonder if you could guide us through a little bit. Holly, If people are hearing this and thinking, Oh, I’d like to be more grateful. Where would they start?
HB: So, um, there’s a couple different things. Um, number one, really, I think to just learn about gratitude, to take the time, to just explore it and keep an open mind and learn about it. Number two, to accept gratitude to your own self.
SG: That’s a big one. That’s a big one. Tell us. Tell us more about how we do that?
HB: So and that’s a whole conversation. But interestingly, this is where I actually really disagree with Dr Robert Emmons, who is the world’s expert on gratitude. But he has never met Holly Burton with the chronic illness right? We have our own set of challenges, and two, it’s really difficult to be grateful outside of yourself until you’re grateful for yourself. Oh, that’s so profound.
SG: I’m going to ask you to repeat that because that’s so deep.
HB: Yeah, it’s really difficult to be grateful outside of yourself before you’re grateful for yourself. And I think radical self care is really important. Even a little bit of self-care is really important, just to be grateful to the amazing person that you are. And I think once that is firmly in place then you can start to be grateful to others and then be grateful, you know, to the bigger collective to the world.
And that’s what I call the ripple effect. But the four pillars really that I teach on, um number one is gratitude on your own terms, and I always like to say, meet gratitude where gratitude is at and like gratitude, meet you where you’re at.
SG: What does that mean? Can you give us an example of that?
HB: So for those of us who are parents, if you ever have, like a difficult child or maybe a difficult situation, right, they always kind of say, meet your child where they’re at right, like you don’t come at a child with the situation from an adult’s perspective, you come at them from a child’s perspective. So kind of the same concept, but a little different. Because when you’re facing some pretty extreme challenges and you’re not feeling grateful, you have to let gratitude in on your own terms, right? You can’t let all the people in all the studies and all the things say this is how you have to be grateful, right? You have to figure it out, like you have to figure out what works for you. And you have to figure out where you’re at and you have to figure out how to let a little bit in at a time how to do it one step at a time.
SG: And I could imagine it could be really frustrating and even infuriating for people to be told, if they’ve lost, say, movement in their right hand, well you’ve still got your left hand, be grateful for your left.
HB: And then, um so the number two and it’s actually I call it grow GROW. Because That’s what we’re doing. We’re growing right.
So number two is religion, faith and spirituality. And we mentioned this earlier is that gratitude is universal. Regardless of your religion, your faith, your spiritual practice, gratitude is universal. We can all experience gratitude. We can all practise gratitude. And I think that if you are, you know, faith based, um you have a religion you practise of spirituality, right? Whatever that is. I think oftentimes with a chronic illness or any kind of challenge, you go through these challenges, you’re going to be one or two people. You’re either going to draw closer to your God to your higher power, or you’re going to go further away.
And I really think gratitude helps you to reconnect to that faith that is so important to you. And then, um so the number three is one daily habit, and again, especially for individuals who are going through a lot of challenges, gratitude is like it’s great to have, you know, the first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed. But then, sometimes in the middle, you forget about it, and it’s basically figuring out what is one daily habit that is going to help me to practise gratitude every day and again.
Gratitude on your own terms, right? And, you know, figuring out what can I do every single day to help me, um, think about gratitude to be grateful for something. Um, one of my friends says she likes to keep a little stone, a pebble in her pocket. And every time she feels that, she just practises a gratitude to something. Okay, so it’s nice to get that kind of her one daily habit. And then finally, um, so the W is writing, and that’s writing and journaling.
And while there are studies that show an increased happiness for those who keep a gratitude journal, in fact, up to 25% happier, if you keep a gratitude journal approximately 50% of us, based on our personalities, don’t like to journal. What now? What if you don’t like to journal, alright. You’re grateful for keeping a note, keeping it on an app, saying it out loud, finding a way to practise that, you know. Why do you want to say I want to enlist as many things as possible? Or do you want to go deep? If you just want to say I got one thing I’m grateful for and here’s why and then take the next few minutes and go deep on that.
SG: Yeah, yeah, and I love that you’ve made it applicable to anybody, whether they like writing and are happy to write in a book before bed or whether they’re not happy to do that. There’s a way to make it work for you.
And I think that’s really important because it’s got to be easy, hasn’t it? For people to actually stick with it and feel the benefits because it’s not something that you feel the next day. I mean, sometimes I’ve worked with clients where I’ve I felt they would really benefit from this because of where they were, and I remember one guy walking and said, I wrote down three things and changed. Nothing’s changed. I was like, well, you have to do for a little bit longer than just the once. And I think with so many of these things, you really have to kind of maybe look back after six months and then you really you do see a change, but you have to give it time because we’re changing the neural pathways in our brain and that does take a bit of perseverance and patience.
HB: Yeah, it’s not an on off switch. It’s not like you’re just gonna wake up the day in, flip a light switch and say, I’m the grateful person today. Absolutely not. It gradually happens over time and it’s gonna look like this on any given day to even a year or two years, 10 years down the road, you’re still gonna have days that are, you know.
SG: Absolutely, of course, of course. And I think it’s like a muscle, though, isn’t it that the more you work at, the more you build that muscle? And it’s absolutely not that I would never be unhappy, never get pissed off or anything like that. I mean, clearly, that’s ridiculous, because I do all the time, but I think that I snap out of it more quickly. So, for example, just the other day I was caught out in the rain. I hadn’t got an umbrella with me and it was torrential. I mean, it was sort of rain that you don’t really see in the UK. And I was so drenched that when cars would kind of drive past in the huge puddles and soak me, it didn’t even make any difference because I was wet through to my bra. You know, my underwear. I was just, like, sopping wet. And I hate being wet and cold, so this is not my ideal thing. And I initially I was like, Oh, and I was like, another kind of half mile from where I was going. I was being absolutely drenched and, like, my coat was so heavy with water, and I literally ran through my head. Thank you for my coat. Thank you for my warm car. Thank you for I’ve got clean clothes at home. Thank you for the heating on at home.
I literally was saying a list very, very rapidly over and over and over and over, and it definitely did. It kicked in, like I didn’t have to kind of cast around after initially being: I can’t believe it. It kicked in quite quickly, and I was almost, like muttering to myself. People probably thought, you know, I’d lost my mind walking down the road and saying, thank you, that I’ve got clean underwear at home. And I can have a hot shower and thank you for hot water and all the rest of it.
But it did really help because it switched my focus away from the discomfort of having sopping wet underwear, which is not nice, to focusing on what I did have when I got home. So, I mean, for me, I mean, obviously, you’ve described something so huge, and I’ve given these very mundane examples. But sometimes I think the little mundane examples show what’s different.
HB: You know, we have time for one more really quick story. So when my mother passed, this was in 2019. And, um, you know, I was already knee deep in the whole gratitude thing, right? So I was like, she passed and I was like, all right, I got to be grateful for something which is a whole another lesson in there is like gratitude is, you know, not to be forced, but there is a time and a place to feel the feels right, and it’s not to be forced. That’s a whole different lesson. But I was knee deep in grief and I was like, OK, I’m doing this gratitude thing and I need to be grateful for something and my mind literally went blank.
And I’m like, I am really sad. I’m grieving my mother. I have nothing to be grateful for. And you know what came to my mind? I had this little yellow mechanical pencil, and I know if you ever watched the movie Office Space when the guy has this red swing line stapler that’s like he’s obsessed with. And so me, I have this little yellow mechanical pencil and it was just my favourite pencil.
It was no big deal, but it was my favourite pencil. I am grieving my mother. I am laying in bed. I’m trying to think of what I’m grateful for. And that stupid little yellow pencil comes to mind. Yeah, and I was like, Really? Can we do this? Okay. I am grateful for my stupid little yellow pencil. And you know what? It opened the door.
SG: It just put a finger through the door. Yeah, I love that story. Yeah, something so small and so random and as common as a pencil. That’s a great story that really is. And I’d actually like to switch tack now to talk a little bit about children because we know that children’s mental health particularly now with pandemic. I mean, even before the pandemic, it was taking a huge hit. But now it’s just really gone through the roof. And one thing I’m really passionate about is introducing children to gratitude because I think more than ever, they need the emotional resilience. And if you can get children to adopt this as a habit when they’re young, then hopefully they’ll have it for the rest of their lives.
And in fact, my other hat, I actually, with a very, very dear friend of mine, we run a children’s charity together, and we actually introduced a kid’s gratitude journal a year ago, and we trialled it in a couple of primary schools in Manchester, and it was really remarkable. Even after a few weeks, we went in and spoke to the children, spoke to their teachers. The children said things like, I feel better about myself. And if I’m having a bad day and something has made me sad I flick back through the book and I see things that I was grateful for, and I feel happy.
And isn’t that incredible for a seven year old or an eight year old to tell you that? Yeah, and the teachers, very interestingly, they said, because we asked them to do it as part of the school day, they said that having that time of introspection, where each child just had a few minutes to think, to be with themselves and to write things that they were grateful for, they saw a really big increase in the children’s focus, in the quality of their written work.
And they were able to talk about quite deep themes with them, such as things that you’re grateful for in your body. You think about your eyes, all the different aspects of your eyes or your teeth. Um, so it was a wonderful talking point for both the children and the teachers and something that we’re just really passionate about. And we would love to see every child in the country have a gratitude journal and do it as part of their school day because it has been proven to increase emotional resilience and positivity. And what is more important to teach children? Seriously?
HB: Absolutely. And, you know, back to Dr Robert Emmons. Both him and Jeffrey Faro let a bunch of studies with children and gratitude. And I mean, you just read off the results. I mean, just absolutely amazing. Results of children doing better with work, having better mindset. They’re more motivated. They’re more, they think creativity. They’re more flexible. They are more active planners. They’re happier, all kinds of things.
SG: Yeah, it is really remarkable for such a practise that took really very few minutes of the school day. And in fact, one of the teachers told me about they had a little girl who had special needs. She really struggled with writing and because she was writing down every time she did something that she felt good about, she then wanted to do better in her language so that she would have something to write down. So it was this beautiful, self-fulfilling cycle where she wanted to write down that she managed to write this letter correctly, and so she did it so she could write it down. And you get this beautiful surge in self-esteem. And I think self-esteem in children is just so crucial, isn’t it, that they grew up with a sense of self-worth And this very simple practise that gives them self-worth?
HB: Absolutely. All that is so beautiful. Yeah. Yeah.
SG: So just to close off Holly, what advice would you like to leave our listeners with if they’ve been a little bit intrigued, but thinking I can’t really think of anything that I’m grateful for, you know, I just can’t really think of anything. I’ve got this problem, that problem. I’ve got problems with my kids. Problems in my relationship. My parents are elderly and sick. Um, work is horrendous, you know? What am I supposed to think of? What am I supposed to write down? So what would you tell people?
HB: You know, I think first of all is really accept where you’re at and don’t judge yourself. Um, you know, it’s OK. And it’s completely normal with everything going on to feel, you know, whatever is going on in your world to feel the way that you’re feeling.
So accept that you are okay exactly where you’re at. And, you know, really, I think you know, like I said, you and I both talked about it, the best way. Three things, five things you know is to really just start. Just start with a couple of things to make that list and then to start going deep on that list and if you can do it in the morning and the evening, and it sounds so simple, but that’s really the best way to get started. And there’s lots of advanced practices and techniques that I can that I can teach about.
But that’s really where I like everyone to start is, you know, first of all, just be okay with where you’re at, accept where you’re at. And I don’t feel that you have to judge yourself if you’re not grateful. And then secondly, to just really start opening that door, even if that one thing on your list is a stupid little yellow pencil, right? Just open the door just a little bit and, you know, and if you find yourself that you can be consistent, if you’re not consistent, just pick it back up, and that’s okay.
And even if writing isn’t your thing, I mean, we both kind of talked about it to be able to go back, you know, to start. But then a week later, a month later, three months later, a year later to be able to go back and say, wow, how far I’ve come. And that really does give you the confidence to keep going.
SG: That’s it. And it can be a tiny thing. And you mentioned the yellow pencil. Um, it could be the smallest thing, like you had a nice cup of tea in the morning.
And I think as time goes on, you start to notice the things because you know that you’re going to have to write something down. Your brain starts to scan for positive things, and you almost think, Oh, that’s going in my gratitude journal. Like I will definitely write this conversation, that’s going in my gratitude journal for sure when I wrote in it this evening. And when I look back in my gratitude journals, I mean, I have a whole cupboard full of them upstairs. And what really upsets me is that initially I didn’t keep them. I used to finish them and then throw them away. So for five years, I didn’t keep them.
But I was looking at one from 2015, and it was such a tiny thing. But this made me smile so much because my son Louis, who I mentioned, he’s actually above me working in his bedroom, so he can probably hear this. He would have been about 15 at the time, and he had a problem. He still does have a problem with this, but he hoards dirty mugs in his bedroom.
For some reason, he just cannot bring himself to bring down a mug, but he has to wait till there’s like, 10 of them, and it just drives everyone crazy because they sit there festering. Anyway. I look back at this day in 2015. What I’d written was Louis brought down his mugs without me asking, and it’s just the cutest, smallest, most insignificant thing that I would never have remembered. I wouldn’t have remembered it the next week because it was so tiny. You know, it wasn’t like being grateful for your health or anything like that.
But it obviously meant something to me that day, enough for me to register it and write it down. And that’s why it’s the example that I always give when I talk about gratitude because it makes me smile and I never get bored of sharing it. And I think that’s the thing is that another person would say, Well, what kind of thing is that to be grateful for, he should bring them down anyway, like, what’s that? But because I was scanning for things, I saw it. I was like, Oh, he cleared the cups from his bedroom. That’s so great. I am so grateful for that. And I wrote it down, and it’s so lovely to be able to flick back at these years. You know, when my kids were younger and see these tiny, daily, mundane, nothing things, but then, like oh gosh, yeah, I remember that happened, I’d forgotten, because how would you, you know, remember these tiny things. But then, Oh, yeah, That happened in August 2016 or whatever, so I would just recommend to anybody you know, if you want to get yourself a nice gratitude journal, there are loads you can buy in stationary shops or an Amazon, or just a pad. You know, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a pad by your bed and just write down, however tiny. Just write them down.
SG: Well, I want to thank you, Holly, for sharing your story and your passion for gratitude. It’s so lovely to talk to someone who feels as passionately as I do about this.
HB: Thank you so much for having me on this show. It’s my absolute pleasure.
SG: And tell listeners, Holly, how can people find you and connect with you? And what have you got going on that they can tap into?
Oh, absolutely. And you know, I really like to direct everyone, I’ve got a gratitude quiz. How grateful are you? And it’s my first step that I like everyone to kind of take the quiz and it’s Pink Fortitude.com/quiz. Basically, it’s a two minutes. It’s super fun and super quick, and you’ll have a result based on your personality, your gratitude, personality and on your results page.
I have a bunch of free resources that are directed. Remember how we talked, just as an example? 50% of the people out there don’t like to journal. 50% do right. So, for example, I have a bunch of free resources on that page, then with your results that will help you start your gratitude practice based on your personality.
SG: I love that. So no one should feel left out if they hate the thought of writing things down. There are different ways to get into this, and I really, really hope that people give it a go because the benefits are so huge. So life changing. Um, if you stick with it, of course, you know it’s about making a habit, and I just hope that this conversation that we’ve had today really spreads gratitude in ripples around the world.