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Gratitude And Stegosaurus Clouds

The most elegant description of depression and anxiety I have heard is by a monk named Ajahn Brahm.

Feeling sad and depressed arises from unhelpful or negative thoughts about what has already happened in the past. 

Feeling worried and anxious arises from unhelpful or negative thoughts about what may happen in the future.

In other words, dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is a recipe for unhappiness.

A logical solution is to cultivate a practice that allows you to have helpful thoughts about what has happened in the past, what may happen in the future and what is happening now. This is gratitude.

A profound yet less obvious next step is to cultivate internal silence and have less thoughts, helpful or unhelpful. A quieter mind is a happier mind. Meditation is a powerful tool to help us experience this. (See Figure 1) 

Figure 1

It’s a lot like the sun and the clouds. The sun is always there.  Whether it’s cloudy or night time, the sun is always present and shining bright. Clouds can get in the way and make us lose sight of the sun. The sun represents the default state of ‘happiness’ that we all have access to. This is a state of peace, contentment and fulfillment that carries a lot of depth and wisdom. It is hard to explain but, it can be experienced by all. It is very different to the transient and fleeting feeling of happiness.

The clouds represent our thoughts and feelings. They obstruct the sun. When we are feeling depressed or anxious, it’s like having a lot of dark thick clouds obstructing the sun. Sometimes these clouds may turn into thunderstorms. Gratitude allows us to have more helpful thoughts. Instead of thunderstorms, perhaps these clouds look like a cool stegosaurus. Notice the nuance. Although they look cool, the stegosaurus clouds are still clouds. They still obstruct the sun. They just look better. Nevertheless, the skill of cultivating stegosaurus clouds will lead to an extraordinary experience of life. Before I show you how, I have to mention to the next step. If gratitude helps us see stegosaurus clouds, meditation allows us to have less clouds. You may experience moments where there are no clouds. A quieter or even silent mind, means you can directly experiencing the nature of the ‘sun’. For me, experiencing the sun has confirmed that our default state is one of happiness. It is simply our thoughts and feelings that cloud it. Let’s leave this for another article or perhaps a 4 hour discussion over tea. 

Let’s delve into gratitude and cultivating stegosaurus clouds.

The rules.
a) Write it down.
b) Make it specific.
c) Make it different each time.
d) Do it every day.
e) Visualise.

a) Write it down.

Ignore the temptation to “just think about it” in your head. There are 2 reasons you should write it down. Firstly, it forces you to clarify exactly what you are grateful for. Secondly, after a while of doing this regularly you will have books full of gratitude. It is incredible to be able to flick through the pages and remind yourself on all the things that have made you grateful over the last few days, weeks, months or years. And yes, writing is better than typing but this is a personal preference. 

What do you write?

  1. Something about yourself (compulsory).

Most people struggle with writing something they are grateful for about themselves. We live in a society where we are expected to be ‘humble’ and this is misconstrued as having to downplay ourselves. This inadvertently crushes self esteem and self confidence. This part of the practice is the only thing I consider compulsory as it is not a muscle that is often flexed. We are all great. We all have value. We all have an ‘inner awesomeness’. Regularly writing something about yourself helps you discover it.

I am grateful that I held the door open for the elderly lady that was trying to negotiate opening the door and holding on to her walker for balance. This shows that I am kind and considerate. 
I am grateful that I visited my friend at the hospital. I was busy but I made the time. This shows that I am caring and know what’s important. 

  1. Someone else.

If we all have an inner awesomeness within us, that means everyone else does as well. I usually write about my wife and then tell her about it. It has strengthened our marriage beyond measure. I also generally pick someone else in my life (e.g. parents, family, friends, strangers, work colleagues) and write about them.

I am grateful that my wife packed me lunch for work because I went to sleep early and forgot. I would starve to death without her.
I am grateful that my Mum still tells me to lock my doors when I am driving. She is cute. She will never stop caring about me.

  1. Something you take for granted.

Life is a concoction of beautiful things that we often take for granted. If we are breathing and still alive, every single person can have something that they’re grateful for.

I love the fact that even if I have a bad day, the sun goes down and comes up the next day and I have another shot at it!
I saw a possum with a baby possum on its back running across the top of my fence yesterday. It was strangely epic. 
I saw a monkey breastfeeding at a monkey forest in Bali. It was something I didn’t know I needed to see, until I saw it.

  1. Work.

We spend most of our lives at work. There are 168 hours in a week. 40 hours could be spent at work. If we don’t find meaning and fulfillment from the thing that you are spending approximately a quarter of your adult life doing, it’s a problem. A daily gratitude practice will allow you to be thankful for the work you do, the money you earn, the people you work with and impact you have on the community.

Every time I walk into my consult room, the heater has already been turned on. I am blessed to work with people who are so considerate.
I got paid today. I am grateful for our finances manager for going through all of my billings and ensuring the money hit my account. I can now proceed to feed myself and my family.

  1. Difficult circumstances.

Life is inherently difficult. It is part of the algorithm. There is beauty in adversity. Find it and then write about it. 

A long distance relationship for 6 years earned me the ability to marry my best friend.
Getting bullied at school made me kinder and compassionate.
Significant stress during medical school and the early years of being a doctor gave birth to ‘Dr G’.
A cancer diagnosis in a loved one led to us spending much more time together.

  1. Difficult people.

No one is fundamentally annoying. They can just do things that are annoying. If you can cultivate gratitude towards them, it dissipates unhelpful emotions and thoughts (e.g. anger, frustration) and cultivates compassion, kindness and generosity.

‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ – Buddha

X told my friends that I can’t be trusted. This is an opportunity to slow down, avoid any impulsive reactions and better understand the situation before responding. This will make me more patient and calm under pressure.
X called me “weak and soft”. I responded by saying “don’t mistake my kindness for weakness”. I am grateful that I was able to stand up for myself with class.
X pushed my buttons to the point where I simply burst out in anger. I said some regretful things. I am grateful to have learnt the capacity of anger to cause more harm.

b) Make it specific.

Specificity matters. It can be the difference between a practice that fizzles out and one that lasts a lifetime. Usually, people fall into the trap of staying too general. “I am grateful for my wife’s support…health… family…friends…well paying job.” Specificity allows for 2 things. Firstly, it cultivates gratitude more effectively. For example, “I am grateful for my wife for carving out 2 hours yesterday to allow me to write my ‘Do Happy’ book. She is an absolute legend” is much better than “I am grateful for my wife’s support”.  Secondly, specificity allows for you to make it different. See number 3.

c) Make it different.

Whatever you write, it has to be different every single day for the rest of your life! You can’t write the same thing twice. Is this possible? Not only is it possible, it’s the game changer! Most people struggle a little at the start to write things they are grateful for simply because it’s a muscle they are not used to flexing. After a while, you may build some momentum. Then, you run out of things to write. This is the when the magic happens! This is also when most people stop. Once you run out of the obvious things, you start to look outside your immediate circumstances for things to be grateful for. You literally start scanning the world for gratitude. Nothing is taken for granted. My wife shaking her head when I make a terrible joke. My patient not telling me off for making her wait for 30 minutes. A staff member bringing a whole basket full of lemons from home. My Dad grinding his own curry powder. And then even simpler things like the immense detail that something as simple as a leaf from a tree has (seriously try it, look at a leaf really closely). And of course, seeing a possum with a possum baby on their back. 

How do you make it different every day? Permutations.

Permutations refer to the number of ways a particular set of variables can be arranged. Let me show you how to generate an infinite number of things to be grateful for.

Come up with an answer for each of these 5 variables.
1) Pick the ‘past, present, future’. E.g. Past
2) What happened? E.g. I played tennis ball cricket with my best mates from school. I scored the winning runs.
3) What was the line of thinking involved? E.g. I love the challenge and rush of a heroic batting innings that goes down to the wire.
4) What was the line of action/inaction involved? E.g. I calculated the runs required per over and accounted for the weaker bowlers I knew I could hit for 6!
5) What does this show about you? E.g. I thrive under pressure.

Here’s the cool thing. You change any one of the above 5 variables and you generate a completely new thing to be grateful for.
You are welcome.

d) Do it every day.

The beauty of never repeating anything is that that by the end of the year, you will have 365 specific and different reasons to be grateful for about yourself, other people and all the little intricacies of life. Imagine what this will do for your self esteem and self confidence? Imagine what it would do for your relationships? After 10 years, it’s 3650 things. Life changing stuff!

e) Visualise.

Closing your eyes and putting yourself in that moment of gratitude takes you back to that moment. If it has already made you happy once, why can’t it make you happy again?


1) A daily gratitude practice changed my life. I hope it does the same for you.
2) Gratitude helps you have useful thoughts about the past, the present and the future.
3) Gratitude allows you to see the stegosaurus clouds.
4) The rules
       a) Write it down.
       b) Make it specific.
       c) Make it different each time.
       d) Do it every day.
       e) Visualise.
4) The possum thing was amazing. The possum baby looked like it was super glued on!
5) DO IT. Otherwise, nothing will change. Only action changes results. 

If you found this article helpful, please SHARE it using the links below with something you are grateful for.

Much love to you and of course, myself.

Dr G

If you want to find out more about coaching, email me at
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