Many of us have had blissful moments where we are suddenly and simply washed over with grace and gratitude. Maybe it comes when we are sipping a hot mug of tea after a particularly long day. We are overcome with a sense of gratitude for all the blessings in our lives, such as family, freedom of choice, friendships, good health and so much more.
But then these bursts of thankfulness become just fleeting thoughts that can instantly dissolve in the mayhem of the day or what we project to be the chaos of tomorrow. With our busy lives and the bigger stress factors we face in our world, it’s no wonder we suffer from what the experts refer to as “gratitude deficient disorder.”
What would happen if we could transform this ephemeral sensation of gratitude to a disposition of character? We could turn it from an emotion to a moral principle that allows us, quite literally, to create a ripple effect of well-being within our hearts, homes, workplaces and communities? It turns out we can.
“Gratitude is the most changeable character strength because it’s about mindfulness, something anyone can do,” says Giacomo Bono, an adjunct professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Studies show that while genetics account for half of our happiness level, the other half is under our everyday control. The benefits of gratitude are almost immediate.
From a scientific perspective, gratitude is more complex than a simple “thank you.” It has been depicted as an emotion, a mood, a moral virtue, a habit, a motive, a personality trait, a coping response and even a way of life.
For instance, take the emotion of gratitude. Most people report states as peaceful, warm, friendly or joyful. We are unlikely to say that gratitude makes us feel burdened, stressed or angry. This small experiment illustrates that gratitude is a positive, desirable state that people generally find enjoyable.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude and a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, gratitude involves two stages. First is the acknowledgment of goodness in our lives. In other words, we have received something that gratifies us, either by its presence or by the effort the giver went into choosing it. Second, gratitude is recognizing that the source(s) of this goodness lie, at least partially, outside the self. In other words, we are grateful for other people, animals, nature and more.
Hence, the practice of gratitude involves developing a deep sense of life appreciation, allowing us to see life through a lens of abundance rather than one of scarcity.
Emmons’ research shows that gratitude is associated with a wide range of benefits on our own physical health, psychological well-being and our relationships with others. Systematically cultivating gratefulness by keeping a gratitude journal and other practices often seems so simple and basic, yet the results can be exponential.
People who practice gratitude consistently report a host of both short-term and long-term benefits, including lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system and better sleep. Fewer bouts of depression were also reported. Appreciating life buffers stress, so we’re less likely to fall prey to its perils.
Why not ditch the typical New Year’s resolutions and declare 2019 our year of radical gratitude? Imagine a year sprinkled with kindness, creativity, curiosity, compassion, forgiveness and patience. Research suggests that these character strengths tag along for the ride on the magical gratitude journey.
Cultivate Gratitude Right Now!
Here are some exercises to cultivate awareness and gratitude. There is no “one size fits all” way of doing this. It only needs to work for you. The only requirements are an open heart and mind. Some might work best when incorporated into your daily or weekly routines while others can be tried when the spirit moves you.
Random Reach Out:Reach out to someone for whom you feel grateful but do not often express your appreciation. Do it in any way that feels comfortable, whether it is an email, handwritten note, phone call or text. Be sure to tell them why you are grateful.
Greeting with Gratitude:Begin a conversation with a loved one, co-worker or friend by sharing one thing for which you feel gratitude about that other person. Expressing appreciation creates a friendly, open and honest environment which enables the increase of effective communication while increasing the potential to deepen the relationship.
Slow It Down:For the first 10 bites of every meal, be conscious of every bite that you put into your mouth. Slowly chew the food, noticing the texture, the various tastes as it dissolves, and the feeling as each swallow fills your stomach. Thank the food for nourishing you. As you continue this practice, notice that as you eat more slowly, you fill up faster.
Make Gratitude Fun:Have fun practicing gratitude with your kids during times when they may start to complain. Examples include long plane or car rides, or going out to eat with a large group. Go back and forth listing one thing that you are grateful for with the “winner” being the person who lists the most things that s/he is grateful for.
Evening Gratitude:To increase household community and connection with one another, make it an evening practice for each person to express one thing that s/he is grateful for that day.
Count Your Blessing, Not Sheep:When you cannot fall asleep, count your blessings instead of counting sheep. This leaves you falling asleep with gratitude in your mind instead of focusing on thoughts that may be racing through your head.
Daily Gratitude:Once a day, write down one thing you are grateful for, using a journal, notebook or online journal.
Giving Time:Volunteer your time at least once a month. Practice giving and potentially receiving gratitude for the opportunity to contribute.
Triggered? Fall back to Gratitude:Begin to notice when you are triggered. Examples of common instances where people are triggered include someone cutting you off in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for internet to connect, and waiting for a text to send when there is bad reception. At these times when agitation or anger or may rise within you, take three breaths and think about what you are grateful for. This will always bring you back to your center.
Donna Vella, CHHC holds certifications in positive psychology, teaching for transformation and holistic health coaching. Connect at 203-962-1062 and Donna@DonnaVella.life.