Being grateful sounds quite easy; actually pulling it off, well, that’s another story altogether. We mostly complain about the current state of our lives, problems, relationship ups and downs, our poor financial circumstances and general unhappiness. Things sometimes feel like they are getting worse and we struggle to find anything positive that will act as a motivator for us to keep going and trying. People with a strong sense of gratitude, don’t necessarily have more than others. Their lives could also be full of disappointments, stress, and anxieties.
Being more grateful means that you recognize and see the potential in your life, that you appreciate what you have today without feeling frustrated over the things you don’t and that you are thankful. Studies have shown that gratitude is effective in increasing well-being as it builds psychological, social and spiritual resources. According to McCullough in 2002, ‘gratitude inspires prosocial reciprocity and indeed, is one of the primary psychological mechanisms thought to underlie reciprocal altruism.’
“Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” – Charles Dickens
When we experience gratitude either by expressing it or receiving it, our social bonds and friendships are strengthened. Allowing ourselves to focus on the help and benefits we have received from others, leads us to feel loved and cared for. (Journal of Social Psychology).
Dan Baker, wrote in his book, What Happy People Know, that ‘it is impossible to be in a state of appreciation and fear at the same time’, therefore, gratitude and appreciation could be very powerful tools against stress, anxiety, and depression.
Being more grateful means that you not only recognize other people’s input and aid towards your life being better and more fulfilled but also you acknowledge the fact that you are daily given a chance to live, to do and to be.
If you’re of a spiritual mindset you recognize that higher powers give you small or big gifts every day helping you towards achieving goodness in your life. Other studies have also suggested that thankful people are generally happier and healthier than those who aren’t and that gratitude is the most important mechanism in building strong friendships and other social bonds.
Why practice gratitude?
- Gratitude brings us happiness: Through research by Emmons, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, and many other scientists, practicing gratitude have proven gratitude to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it also boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.
- On the flip side, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.
- Gratitude is good for our bodies: Studies by Emmons and his colleague Michael McCullough suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health.
- Grateful people sleep better: They get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.
- Gratitude makes us more resilient: It has been found to help people recover from traumatic events, including Vietnam War veterans with PTSD.
- Gratitude strengthens relationships: It makes us feel closer and more committed to friends and romantic partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship. Gratitude may also encourage a more equitable division of labor between partners.
- Gratitude promotes forgiveness—even between ex-spouses after a divorce.
- Gratitude makes us “pay it forward”: Grateful people are more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate.
- Gratitude is good for kids: When 10-19-year-olds practice gratitude, they report greater life satisfaction and more positive emotion, and they feel more connected to their community.
- Gratitude is good for schools: Studies suggest it makes students feel better about their school; it also makes teachers feel more satisfied and accomplished, and less emotionally exhausted, possibly reducing teacher burnout. (GreaterGood)
How can I be more grateful?
To be more grateful means that you are allowing yourself to be more satisfied, more content and happier with everything that is going on around you. It also means that you will try to find the positive aspects of most situations, that you will practice gratitude, say thank you more often, forgive yourself and others and appreciating life and everyone in it.
Author and filmmaker Baptist de Pape explains the two levels of gratitude and how we can practice it to open our hearts and live a happier life.
- The first level of gratitude includes everyday experiences and interactions, from the roof over your head to the food for your children or a smile from a stranger.
- The second level of gratitude is to be able to appreciate what you have even after a great loss or major disappointment, such as the end of a love affair, the loss of a job, illness, or even in the face of great sadness, such as the loss of a loved one. Gratitude helps us pave the way for a new life; we find new understanding, new connections, and relationships. (Psychologies)
Daily gratitude exercise
Martin Seligman, a positive psychologist, has created an exercise aimed at increasing happiness and wellbeing:
- Each night for a week, take 10 minutes before you go to sleep to write down three things that went well for you today.
- Write them in a journal or even in your notes section on your smartphone.
- The things can be large, small, unimportant or important. For example, ‘the train came on time’ or ‘my niece’s surgery went well’.
- Next to each one, answer the question ‘Why did this go well?’. Perhaps, ‘because the train crews anticipated bad weather’ and ‘because my niece found a great doctor’.
- Keep your list for at least a week and note how you begin to feel.
10 ways to cultivate gratitude
Life is all about moments. Life is full of moments and experiences; sometimes enriching and others disappointing. Don’t go just go through life letting all its moments pass you by. Savor every moment, even the ones that are boring or repetitive. Mindfully absorb every moment of your life and make it unique and exciting. We do not remember days, we remember moments, so make them count.
- Don’t compare yourself with other people. The grass always might seem greener on the other side but they might water it more. You heard right, take charge of your own life, appreciate what you have achieved so far and be grateful for what you have.
Comparing yourself with others will only make you unhappier, unproductive and depressed. There will always be someone who is better looking, richer, more successful or more intelligent than you. The comparison will only make you incapable of recognizing your own self-worth. You can stop this, today.
- Appreciate what you have right now. ‘The happiest people are those who are content with what they currently have, not with what they lack. Apply an abundance mindset in your way of thinking – every action begins with the mind, after all’, (Lifehack)
- Touch someone’s life. Helping other people improve their lives, is one of the most rewarding things in the world. Doing that, not only makes you feel absolutely great and satisfied it also makes you value what you have in your life more. Donate your time to a fundraising event, sponsor a child’s education, give your clothes away to the poor or cook some food for the homeless. Devote your attention and time to a friend in need, be a listening ear or a helping hand. You have the ability to make yourself feel more grateful, make a difference in someone else’s life and improve the quality and meaning of yours. Every little counts, never believe the opposite.
- Acknowledge the past but MOVE ON. Our past is a very important part of our lives and negative issues from the past left unresolved should and must be worked through and cleared out. Once this is done, the past will always hold significant events, past heartaches, good and bad moments, past mistakes or achievements.
It is impossible to forget all of those past events and actually it’s not recommended either. However, our past doesn’t define us and it should only be used as a stepping stone. Acknowledge all past events and promise never to repeat past errors. Now move on and don’t allow your past to determine who you will be today.
- Remember. Never forget the people who helped you along your life’s journey. Their contribution, either small or big, and the kindness and understanding they showed to us is priceless. Try to remember all of those people who acted as guardians, positive messengers, mentors, trusted friends, people who showed us love, appreciation, and empathy. Just by trying to remember such people, you can cultivate gratitude in your life.
- Gratitude requires humility. These two values go together; in order to be able to be thankful and express gratitude to others, you must be humble and respectful. Being humble means that you admit that you are not the best at everything and that you recognize all your faults. You are not afraid of making mistakes, you avoid bragging, and are considerate in conversations.
Being humble doesn’t mean that you have low self-esteem. ‘However, a humble person should be mindful of everyone in the conversation and shouldn’t talk down or disrupt anyone. As a humble person, you should recognize that everyone, including you, has their own goals and dreams and they may want to talk about their achievements and their opinions on things.’ (wikiHow)
- Accept a gift from someone. Tal Ben-Shahar, in his book “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment”, explains that: “when we do not feel that we are worthy of happiness, we cannot possibly feel worthy of the good things in our lives, the things that bring us happiness.”
Indeed, we mostly feel that we are not worthy of gifts such as someone’s time, attention and willingness to help. ‘One of the hardest acts of gratitude is to graciously accept a gift, to believe in the goodness of the person who gave it to us, and to believe in ourselves enough to receive it’, (PsychCentral).
- Give at least one compliment daily. It can be towards your partner, your children or a friend. It can also be asking someone to share your appreciation of something else such as the weather, a state of being, a book or an opinion, (“I love how beautiful the sunset is, don’t you?”).
- See with the heart. Enough said.
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