There is a lot of buzz around gratitude. What is it? Why is it important? How to cultivate it? One of the biggest reasons to live a life of gratitude is the ability to untether ourselves from beliefs and perspectives that keep us stuck.
Some people see gratitude as the gateway to happiness, which tops the list of desires for lots of people. Gratitude can be an intrinsically rewarding process that can also enhance a person’s experience of happiness – greater acceptance, acknowledgement, and belonging.
Happiness, they say, is the grandest pursuit of all in life. This ephemeral, seemingly fleeting feeling, like that other emotion, Love, has been dissected, researched, pondered, and written about since time immemorial.
Perhaps its elusiveness lies in the fact that we seek it, rather than see it. We pursue, rather than embody it.
The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have.
Your strongest muscle in getting happiness coursing through your veins is Gratitude.
Being grateful is a complete dimension of being. It’s saying thank you. It’s appreciating everyone in your life, despite your epic struggles with them. This is an earthly emotion with a transcendent function. At another level, then, it’s understanding that these are ego-battles and lessons for growth.
Gratitude gives us a healthy perspective – both the trees and the forest, especially in times when the focus is on all the little things that may not be going according to plan. It allows us to see what we do have in our lives and see the “bad” in a whole new and empowered light. It grounds us in the now. Instead of focusing on the stress, worry or regret, feeling full appreciation opens our eyes and heart to see the fullness and potential of the moment.
But does being grateful really ramp up the happiness quotient?
In his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Professor Robert Emmons shares research showing the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by 25%.
Not only did research show happiness level rise, there is a strong correlation with additional health benefits. Gratitude may be the key to being healthy and happy.
So the next important question is how. How do we practice gratitude?
For many people, gratitude may not come so naturally or easily and conscious attention is required.
3 Simple Gratitude Tips
① Keep a Gratitude Journal
Spend just a few minutes every day to jot down five to ten things you are grateful for. Nothing is too trivial to be included. Really.
Professor Emmons’ 10 week study showed that those who kept a weekly gratitude journal were 25% happier, compared to those who wrote about hassles or just any event that happened in the week. The things these people wrote about in their gratitude journals? Sunset through the clouds, the chance to be alive, and the generosity of friends.
② Say Thank You
Saying “thank you” means not only other people feel good, but you feel good as well. It doesn’t matter how “small” the gesture is. Saying “thank you” while a proper etiquette comes from desire, rather than obligation. The key is acknowledging that little something that a friend, or a stranger, has done. It’s saying, “I see you and I acknowledge you. I thank you for your attention for me and I appreciate it.”
③ Think Grateful Thoughts (even for the “bad” stuff)
Neuroscience research shows that people cannot simultaneously think of both positive and negative thoughts at the same time. So increase those endorphins and look at the positive side of a not-so-positive situation. Positive psychology experts are saying the inoculation against depression and stress may be positive thinking, empathy, and gratitude.
We can rewire our brain to strengthen the negative through complaining or the possibilities and big-picture through appreciation. Try starting the day, as you lay in bed, with gratitude. Leave the planning and to-do lists after “setting the mood.”
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
Philosophers such as Seneca saw gratitude as a virtue. This emotional state and a character trait of strength are transformative on the personal and collective levels. Being grateful increases and is reflective of a person’s openness, agreeableness, optimism, and general well-being. When more people are able to experience this in their relationships and other areas of life, the spill-over effect into their community and beyond has far-reaching implications.