Definition of gratitude
Gratitude is defined as:
“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”.
True gratitude is deep, meaningful and long lasting. It goes far beyond the appreciation you may feel for a new car or handbag that quickly stops being new so you soon stop appreciating it.
Most religions, including Buddhism, advocate being grateful for your lot.
People who are high achievers often focus on what they are aiming for, achieve it, feel good momentarily, then immediately set off towards their next goal. They are never satisfied and always aiming for something that hasn’t yet happened: if you identify with that, I hope you’ll find these ideas particularly helpful.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
Epictetus, Greek philosopher
Research shows that an ‘attitude of gratitude’ enhances your wellbeing.
Studies at Manchester University in the UK and Berkeley University in the US connect gratitude to higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression.
A study reported by the American Psychology Association found that gratitude is associated with better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of inflammatory bio-markers related to cardiac health.
Robert Emmons, professor at the University of California, gives four reasons why gratitude is good for you:
- Gratitude allows us to celebrate the here and now. It helps us notice the positives and appreciate the value of things and achievements.
- Gratitude blocks negative emotions. It simply isn’t possible for the brain to feel annoyed and stressed at the same time as feeling grateful.
- Grateful people bounce back more quickly if they get ‘knocked down’.
- Grateful people have greater self-worth, because recognising the support and affirmation they receive from other people makes them feel helped and cared for.
“Let us be grateful for the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our soul blossom.”
Marcel Proust, French novelist
What you can do
Here are six ways to help you show more gratitude.
Keep a gratitude journal
At the start or end of every day, think of as many things as you can that you are grateful for, and write them down. Ideally, you will think of at least 3-5 things – the most meaningful are often those related to the people in our lives but could also be something that’s gone well, something you’re proud of, an achievement, praise you’ve received, or a difficult conversation you’ve tackled.
It’s important to do this every day, because it forces you to think positively, and re-programmes the brain to form a new habit of considering what you’re grateful for. (Also see Emmons part 2, mentioned above.)
I often suggest this idea when coaching people who lack confidence or a positive outlook, because it forces them to think of at least one good thing each day.
You could buy an attractive journal that you will enjoy opening every day. Or you could use one of the many apps that are now available, and record your thoughts electronically. Many of them include inspirational quotes and reminders. For example, I have just downloaded the Gratitude Journal app by PPL Development Company. (It has seven 5-star reviews, but I can’t vouch for it personally as I’ve only just started using it.)
Pay it forward
You might remember the Pay it Forward film launched in the year 2000, but I first heard this expression when I did some NLP training about ten years ago.
Rather than having a mindset where you return a favour, you help someone else with whatever they may need at the time.
Focusing on others takes us out of ourselves and away from our own troubles. So think about people you know at work, or in your family and friendship circles, who might need help, and how you could show support. Ideally, don’t think in terms of a one-off intervention. Try to be there for a period of time, as is needed.
You will immediately start feeling better about yourself when you are helping someone that needs it.
Highlights of a talk about the value of helping others, by Andy Lopata
Revisit past experiences
If you’re in a troubled spot, think about how you overcame past challenges. This approach puts your current reality into a long-term perspective.
Remind yourself that you did overcome them. You have experience, capability and resilience because you got over hurdles in the past, so will get over this one too.
Show or state your appreciation for others
This month’s article was triggered by a story I read in the book The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan. Here’s a summary:
Every morning, Janice would visit the same coffee shop, where she’d place her order, smile, chat, and thank the barrista.
One day, she realised that she showed more gratitude to the barista than she did to her own husband, who does a lot more for her than making a daily coffee. They had been married “forever”, and she realised she was taking him for granted, and nagging and moaning when he didn’t put the bins out – although that is obviously the man’s job 🙂
Janice decided she would start showing her husband more appreciation.
When he next drove them on a long journey, she said: “I really do appreciate you driving when we go away, because I don’t like driving long distances”.
He said: “I just always do.”
She replied: “Nevertheless, I want you to know I appreciate it.”
He soon started reciprocating, which fed more positive experiences, brought them closer together, and strengthened their relationship.
“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”
William James, American philosopher, psychologist and physician
It won’t be the first time you’ve read this recommendation from me! Nature grounds you, reminds you that the tides continue to flow, and that life carries on, no matter what.
Here in Europe, it’s Autumn. These photos are from my garden – what’s not to love?!
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Cicero, Roman philosopher
Many young people today have an entitlement mindset. They are lucky enough to have shelter, food, holidays, experiences and opportunities. Yet, 1,400 other children die every day from diseases caused by drinking dirty water.
There is considerable value in teaching the next generation to be more appreciative, especially because millennials (generation Y) are now starting to enter the workplace that’s still being run by generation X and baby boomers.
How can you help your children to be grateful for what they have? It will build their self-esteem and give them a more positive outlook on life.
Christmas message, exciting news and end-of-year review.