When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive — to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love (Marcus Aurelius).
What does gratitude mean to you? It can mean different things to different people. To some it means thanking someone in your life or ‘counting your blessings’. For some it evokes an appreciation of life. It is good to think broadly about and practise gratitude as it has been found to be an antidote to negative emotions such as envy, worry and irritation. And, people who experience gratitude have been shown to be happier, more energetic and more hopeful (Lyubomirsky, 2007, p 88).
When I was writing ‘Intuition’, I came across an article in a newspaper about a woman called Marie-Therese who lived with ‘locked-in syndrome’ for seventeen years. Despite only being able to move her eyelids, she expressed ‘100 reasons why life is great’. This became her epitaph. Her reasons included the following: ‘Every time I see my beautiful sons, especially when all three of them visit together and we are a family; being able to communicate [by blinking]; being taken out in my wheelchair for a concert, and witnessing the best side of human nature every day in the form of the kind nurses who tend to me’ (Howell, 2013, p135). I found her list very moving and a reminder to treasure all that we have.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist working in the field of positive psychology, explains the many benefits of practising gratitude:
• It allows us to embrace positive life experiences and to find satisfaction from them.
• Expressing gratitude increases our sense of self-worth.
• Appreciating how much others do for us and how much we achieve ourselves gives us greater confidence.
• It takes the focus away from the negative aspects of our life and places it on what we value.
• Gratitude helps people to cope with stress and trauma.
• It can be used as a coping method to help reinterpret negative life events and the lessons we learn from them or the strengths we develop.
• Grateful people are more likely to help others and be less likely to be overly materialistic.
• Gratitude can help to build and strengthen relationships. Expressing gratitude can help diminish comparisons with others, as being grateful for the things you have (either personal characteristics or material) distracts from envy of what others have.
• Gratitude is incompatible with what are commonly perceived as ‘negative’ emotions (such as sadness or anger) and may deter unhelpful feelings (such as bitterness).
• It prevents us from falling susceptible to ‘hedonic adaptation’ (looking for more to make us happy, adapting to more, then wanting more again) (Lyubomirsky, 2007, p 92).
To assist you in tuning into more positivity and focus on practising gratitude more often in what you think and say. Consider keeping a gratitude journal and noting down things you have felt grateful for — nothing is too small or insignificant to write in your journal. You might be grateful for a friend’s support, a good meal, a sound sleep or the sunshine. In research Lyubomirsky carried out on the effect of gratitude journals, she found that they were helpful to our mood and that the optimum frequency for writing in the journal was not once a day or once a month, but once a week (Kashdan & Ciarrochi, 2013, p 147).
Ten tips for giving and gratitude:
1. Review your values, and ensure giving is at the centre!
2. Give because you are able to give, even if something very small e.g. a kind word.
3. Say thank you to people or write thank you notes / cards.
4. Give time to your children, friends, family or pets.
5. Be grateful for the challenges, as it is from these that you grow.
6. Give thoughtful and beautiful gifts (sometimes the best gift is handmade, such as a card or biscuits).
7. Give kind words and acts e.g. a smile, checking up on a friend.
8. Remember to give to yourself, just as you would to others, especially kind words and thoughts.
9. Give yourself time to do activities that refresh and renew you e.g. walking on the beach.
10. Be grateful for the positive things in your life.
Gratitude journals: Keeping a gratitude journal is a fantastic way to keep track of things we have felt grateful for and nothing is too small or insignificant to warrant a place in your journal. Find a notebook, choose one day a week e.g. Sunday, and list 6 things that you are grateful for!
Kashdan, T., Ciarrochi, J. (2013). Mindfulness, acceptance and positive psychology. Context Press, USA.
Howell, C. (2013). Intuition Unlock the Power. Exisle, NSW.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. London: Sphere.