This week as American families everywhere are preparing for thanksgiving celebrations I thought it was the perfect moment to talk about Gratitude. For many thanksgiving, like Christmas, has become a commercial holiday and the focus has shifted away from remembering what you’re grateful for towards a more materialistic display of affection yet despite this gratitude seems to be a word on the lips of anyone with even the faintest interest in personal development. If you search Gratitude in Amazon there are more than 40,000 results, but it is more than a self help buzzword and I invite you to accompany me on a journey to re-discover the benefits of gratitude.
Gratitude, in postitive psychology terms, rather than being the act of saying thank you, is a positive emotion, an appreciation of the good that is already in your life. Studies show that practicing gratitude increases other positive emotions, reduces depression and helps us become more resilient so we bounce back better from life’s set-backs and challenges. It has been reported that a regular gratitude practice can even promote better sleep, reduce stress and create greater levels of life satisfaction and a greater sense of connection. And who doesn’t want more of that in their life?
By actively practicing gratitude we bring our attention to the things in our lives that are going well, and where attention goes energy flows. The more we focus on the good things in our lives the more we attract more of those kinds of experiences. We also develop resilience allowing us to recover faster from life´s trials and tribulations Still not convinced, let´s look at the research.....
Martin Seligman, considered the father of positive psychology, has dedicated his life to studying positive emotions and how to cultivate them. He developed the practice known as Three Good Things, kind of gratitude journal, where you spend 5-10 minutes every day writing in detail about three good things that went in your day. In his 2005 study he discovered that doing this every day for a week led to an increase in happiness which persisted for a number of weeks after.
Dr Barbara Fredrickson, another big name in the positive psychology world, talks about the role of gratitude as one of the 10 positive emotions in her broaden and build theory (Fredrickson 2001), with this model Fredrickson claims that positive emotions permit us to broaden our perspectives: allowing for greater creative cognitive processing to occur and help us build our personal resources. Positive emotions actually increase our range of vision- both our metaphorical and literal field of vision allowing us to see more possibilities and creatively problem solve. The positive emotion of Gratitude specifically encourages the tendency to give creatively and develop social bonds.
Tips for Cultivating Gratitude
Three Good Things
Why fix if it’s not broken; Martin Seligman’s simple formula for cultivating gratitude is a winner. Spend 5-10 minutes every other day writing down, in detail, three things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be big things, a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the park on a crisp autumn day can be just as impactful as getting that long awaited promotion if it is part of your overall practice of cultivating gratitude and building awareness around the good things in your life.
Make it a Habit
Start making it a regular part of your routine, if you find it challenging at the beginning start with once a week and then try every second day until you have a regular practice. Interestingly, the University of Berkley says that 1-3 times a week has a greater impact than doing it every day but every one is different so experiment and see what works for you.
Write it Down
According to the experts committing it to paper does make a difference, thinking about it is not enough you have got to write it down. I like to get myself a nice little notebook and leave it by my bed (not too nice or I don’t want to ruin in it by actually using it for its designed purpose) That helps me to remember and it is now as much a part of my nightly routine as taking off my make-up orbrushing my teeth.
What about the thing you choose do you appreciate? What are the secondary benefits you got from it? How would your day have been if you hadn’t had this experience or encounter?
If you’re not feeling it don’t force it. This is one situation where the fake it til you make it axiom does not apply. If you are having difficulty finding things that you can deeply appreciate think about things you have in your life and imagine how your life would be without them. This helps us to notice things, situations or places that we may be taking for granted.
Already got a regular gratitude practice? Take it up a notch- write and post a letter of gratitude to someone who you feel huge appreciation for, (yes, the old fashioned way!) Outline in detail how they have been or what they did that created those feelings of appreciation. Send the letter with no attachment to the outcome, sadly many of us have difficulty accepting genuine demonstrations of appreciation from other people, something about it makes us squirm with discomfort… another day’s work.
I know that some of you already have a regular gratitude practice and I would love for you to share your experiences in the comments, and any other tips that might have that could help others get theirs off the ground.