Happiness Habit #2: Gratitude

 “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is easier in this Thanksgiving season to be focused on what we are thankful for as we have the tradition of the holiday to remind us to do so.  However, if we practice gratitude and cultivate an attitude of appreciation the remainder of the year, it leads to increased happiness. 

Positive Psychology contends that gratitude is more than just feeling thankful for something, it is more like a deeper appreciationfor someone (or something).  An important component to understand is that practicing gratitude leads to a positive emotional response which serves a purpose. 

 Harvard Medical School defines gratitude as:

a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

 Intellectuals, philosophers, and religious leaders have been contemplating the benefit of gratitude for at least 2,000 years.  Cicero and Seneca thought of gratitude as a crucially important virtue which was foundational to a successful civilization.  Many religious and spiritual movements such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism focus on the practice of gratitude. 

 More recent research by psychologists have been recognizing the importance of gratitude.  Studies have found that practicing gratitude can lead to improvements in the following areas:

·     Well-Being: studies show grateful people are more agreeable, more open, and less neurotic (measures of the Big Five Personality Traits).  Gratitude also decreases depression and increases life satisfaction.

·     Relationships:People who express gratitude tend to be more willing to forgive others and less narcissistic.  It is also a powerful tool for strengthening your relationships by promoting relationship formation and maintenance, as well as relationship connection and satisfaction. 

·     Optimism:In one study by Dr. Emmons and Dr. McCullough in 2003, the found that people who focused on gratitude for 10 weeks showed significantly more optimism in many areas of their lives, including health and exercise. 

·     Happiness:  gratitude is showing a direct and long-lasting effect thus the more gratitude we experience the happier our lives will be.

·     Stronger Self-Control: This helps us to be disciplined and focused and to persist with what is subjectively the most important for our long-term well-being (e.g., health, finances). 

·     Better Physical and Mental Health: Recent research performed in 2015 showed that patients with heart failure, who completed gratitude journals showed reduced inflammation, improved sleep, and better moods thus dramatically reducing their symptoms of heart failure after only 8 weeks. The mind and body are inextricably linked and feeling appreciation when we are grateful helps us to have healthier minds and with that, healthier bodies.

 In the Wall Street Journal article “Thank you, No, Thank you” Melinda Beck sums the research up with:

“…adults who feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.”

 

Convinced of the benefits enough to start trying it? Here are some ideas for how to cultivate a mindset of gratitude:

1.    Gratitude Journal: at the end of each day, spend some time reflecting on the positive things that happened that day and the things you are grateful for. Write down 3 of those things. Get creative with these. We often times want to just list out the basics “I am grateful for my family,” but there is so much more that can be focused on. Think about all the people who have contributed to your life and where you are today, what role they played and

2.    Mindfully noticing the world: notice the world from a perspective of gratitude and be amazed at all the goodness we take for granted. 

3.    Shifting focus: If you identify something or someone with a negative trait (the cold conference room), switch it in your mind to a positive trait (the conference room with a great view). An example of how I practiced this the other night: My almost 2-year old was up at 1 am wanting a snack. I could have had an attitude of frustration that she interrupted my sleep and declared “eat” but then said “no” to every food option I gave her and then just been impatient wanting her to get back to bed.  I remained patient and focused on the gift of time I had with her, sitting on the couch in the quiet and I watched her observing the world.  It was storming outside so she was noticing the wind and the sounds. We talked about those. Through this mindset of gratitude for this quiet time together and her curiosity of the world, I was able to be patient, calm, and went back to bed feeling appreciation rather than irritation. 

4.    Give at least one compliment daily either directly to a person or sharing something you appreciate (“I love the bright red leaves on the tree outside.”). Also, receive complaints from others. If you reject a compliment, it is like giving back a gift.

5.    Stop complaining, criticizing, and gossiping. Try it for one week and notice how much of energy was focused on negative thoughts. 

6.    Join a cause that is important to you.

7.    Sound genuinely happy to be communicating with people in your life (best done in person or over the phone).

More resources on gratitude:

The great Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast reminds us that it isn’t happiness that makes us grateful, but rather, gratefulness that makes us happy. He says that when something really valuable is freely given, gratefulness arises, and with it, happiness:

Gratitude Revealed: Filmmaker Louie Schwarzberg explores the many sides of being thankful in 15 gorgeous videos.

Grateful: A Gratitude Journal: This iOS app offers daily prompts to get you in the habit of expressing what you’re thank for. To get you thinking, the app greets with a question. Apps that encourage you to write at least five good things daily, add photos, and rate the day.

The Gratitude Jar: This site lets you share what you’re grateful for with the world and view others’ gratitude statements for inspiration.

Red Stamp: This iOS app will send personalized cards and notes any way you like: email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and paper mail.

 40 ideas for getting started with gratitude

Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happierby Dr. Robert Emmons

 

Take some steps! Start practicing gratitude today and notice the effects it has on your overall emotional state.  

If you’re interested in working on happiness habits or mindset coaching, email me or Knoxville Counseling Services to schedule an appointment!