As I get older, I’m hearing more people complain of a lack of joy and fulfilment in their lives. Personally, I think this can often be explained as an imbalance in our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. In other words, we’re not allowing ourselves the right doses of sleep, nutrition, exercise, work, security, intellectual stimulation, attention, sense of achievement, socialization, fun, time alone and so on.
While exploring ways to increase their happiness, many people identify a lack of spiritual satisfaction which often leads them on a journey of gratitude.
What is Gratitude?
Robert Emmons is recognized as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He describes gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” He explains it as an acknowledgement and an appreciation of things that are given to or done for us. He goes on to say that the good feelings associated with gratitude inspire us to create the same feelings for other people.
Most of us are taught basic gratitude as children as we learn to say thank you, show respect and help others. But in this busy world, I fear many of us have become expectant of certain things, feeling it’s our right to live our lives in a particular way and taking the ordinary things for granted.
Why is Gratitude Important?
Positive psychology research proves that gratitude is strongly associated with the emotions that help us enjoy greater health and happiness. It can also play an important role in nurturing our relationships and can even inspire us to take better care of ourselves.
A study conducted by scientists Ken Sheldon, David Schkade and Sonja Lyubomirsky discovered that the components affecting happiness can be divided into three sections:
1) A natural “Set Point” that you are born with (50%),
2) Life Circumstances (10%), and
3) Intentional Activity (40%).
In simple terms, it’s our behaviour that’s most likely to increase our level of happiness.
People who incorporate gratitude into their daily lives have a more optimistic outlook and are more appreciative of everyday things. As they are less likely to take things for granted, they are more inclined to be moved by the little things that can seem quite mundane to others. And because their attitude towards life may be more easy going, feeling that whatever comes their way is a blessing, disappointment may not be a factor that greatly affects their mood. Being able to see the bright side of life rather than focusing on a lack, is a major factor in improving happiness.
Greater Life Satisfaction
Grateful people tend to be less materialistic and more hopeful. They’re also less likely to feel they’re a victim when things don’t go their way. Being better able to cope with tragedies and crisis, helps improve the quality and experiences they have in life.
Better Physical and Mental Health
It’s proven that people who live with gratitude are less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression. It’s been shown that grateful people are more optimistic and apart from an increase in energy, optimism has a number of health benefits. And it’s not just mental health that’s positively impacted, but physical health too. Gratitude has a positive effect on immunity, blood pressure, heart disease, cancer outcomes, pain tolerance and even pregnancy.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
– William Arthur Ward
People experiencing heartfelt gratitude and high levels of happiness have far greater self-esteem and confidence than those with an attitude of doom and gloom. Being grateful focuses our attention on happier, more positive thoughts which helps us feel better about ourselves and banishes negative self-talk. Being appreciative of the things people have done for us can help us see just how much we are cherished and valued, hence increasing our self-worth in our own mind.
Higher Level of Success
It’s been shown that people with a grateful disposition are more likely to reach their goals faster. Those in managerial positions report that thanking their colleagues and showing genuine appreciation for their efforts, improves productivity and motivates enthusiasm and loyalty.
Greater Academic Success
A study conducted by Psychologist Jeffrey Froh showed students who regularly practised gratitude were more optimistic, more satisfied in life and more positive about school.
Another study suggested that grateful adolescents form stronger friendships, are more satisfied at home and less materialistic. They’re also likely to have greater self-esteem, give more emotional support to others, be more engaged in schoolwork and achieve higher grades.
People with an attitude of gratitude are more likely to recover faster from a setback. Seeing the brighter side of negative situations allows them to find the lesson and move on to count their blessings in other aspects of life.
People who express their gratitude for their friends, partner or loved ones are rewarded with more positive feelings and given more trust and respect. One study showed that expressing gratitude to a partner allowed a couple to feel more comfortable talking about relationship concerns and made them more forgiving and responsive to each other’s needs.
Cultivating and Attitude of Gratitude
Being grateful isn’t always easy. Our attitude towards life can greatly depend on the environment in which we live, the people we associate with and the experiences we’ve had. Stress also plays a major part in people feeling ungrateful for what they have or the situation they’re in.
But as Robert Emmons explains, “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished. Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.”
As gratitude is a “chosen attitude”, we explore the ways in which we can most successfully incorporate it as part of daily life.
Our expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons strongly believes that keeping a gratitude journal is one of the best ways of changing our attitude. He shares some research-based tips to help you benefit the most from your journal.
- Make a Conscious Decision to Become Happier
Unless you’re ready to ditch your old ways to become a happier person, you’re likely going to waste your time starting a journal. Make sure you’ve thought about your decision and are happy to commit the time to reflecting and writing. It stands to reason the more motivated you are, the more enthusiastic you’ll be to do it properly to reap the rewards an attitude of gratitude can give.
- Don’t Rush It
Be sure you have time set aside to write so that you’re not rushing and simply making a long superficial list. There’s no requirement to come up with a certain number of things, it’s far better to be genuine in your gratitude for the few things that have meant the most. When you write about these things, write from the heart and in detail.
- Less Is More
A study by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues suggests that writing once or twice a week is more beneficial than journaling each day. Their findings were that people who wrote just once a week for six weeks reported a boost in happiness whereas those who wrote three or more times per week didn’t.
- Make It Personal
It’s the people in your life you are grateful for that have the most impact, not things, so write about them and why they mean so much to you. Make sure your writing is descriptive so that when you look back in years to come, you’ll be able to remember the events, people and feelings.
- Imagine Life Without
An effective way to increase gratitude is to imagine what life would be like without certain people or things in your life. We generally don’t miss people or things that we already have and sometimes take them for granted. But imagining life without them can put a very different perspective on things.
- Remember Surprises
Emmons explains that recording unexpected or surprising events elicit stronger levels of gratitude, so be sure to include these when you write.
You don’t have to get fancy with your journal. You can write in something as simple as an exercise book, but if you’d prefer to purchase one specifically designed for gratitude, there are a number of great options below (affiliate links):
Jack Canfield’s Gratitude Journal: The Companion to Jack Canfield’s Key to Living the Law of Attraction
Gratitude Journal: Positive Thoughts & Vibration by You Daily Gratitude Journal
Gratitude Journal: 100 Days of Gratitude Will Change Your Life
Thank Key People in Your Life – The “Gratitude Visit”
Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, developed a simple, but highly effective exercise known as the “gratitude visit”. This exercise, found in his highly acclaimed book “Flourish” (affiliate link), promises to enhance well-being and reduce depression.
Martin Seligman’s exercise:
Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face?
Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless. In this exercise … you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.
Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.
You can read more about this exercise here.
Complaining seems to be a natural part of most people’s character, something we do many times a day without really noticing. Though we’re able to get things off our chest, complaining usually causes more harm than good and rarely yields a positive result. When we complain, we’re reinforcing negative emotions, reliving stress and frustration, and impacting our mood and self-esteem.
Be aware of what you’re thinking and saying. The next time you catch yourself with a negative thought or are about to vent about something that’s annoying you, STOP yourself! Replace that negativity with positive thoughts or words about the good things that have happened in your day, the things that you are (or should be) grateful for.
Giving or doing for others creates feelings of gratitude for the recipient and a sense of pride and happiness for the giver. Apart from the good feelings that are created when we volunteer our time or give a gift, it’s also a way of seeing how lucky we are compared to those we’re helping. People who experience someone else’s misfortune often come away with strong feelings of gratitude for the things and people in their own lives.
Savour The Good Times and The Bad
Most people are conditioned to react negatively or question “why me” when something bad happens to them. But, people who practice gratitude are more likely to find the positives in a negative situation. Just because it’s not something you’d planned or it makes you unhappy doesn’t mean there’s nothing good to be taken from it. I’m a great believer that every negative situation offers something to be grateful for. I was recently reminded of this when my sister and nephew were in a car accident. Given the other driver was on their side of the road when they came round a bend, they were exceptionally lucky to escape shaken but unhurt. A timely reminder to count my blessings instead of my misfortunes.
What’s your favourite way to practise gratitude?
Author: Lisa Currie, Ripple Kindness Project
Lisa is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project, a community program and school curriculum that aims to improve social, emotional and mental health, and reduce bullying by teaching and inspiring kindness. The ongoing, whole school primary curriculum teaches children about their emotions and the impact their words and actions have on others. It provides opportunities for children to be part of kindness activities, allowing them to experience the feel good emotions kindness produces.