Gratitude is a subject I have made reference to often here on this blog of mine, but is a subject that I have not really offered a dedicated article on or about, so that is what I’m doing here today, writing about gratitude.
“No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” – Alfred North Whitehead.
Let’s put things into some context and perspective here first. Success is about not only about achieving results, it is also about learning from setbacks and striving for ongoing development and progress. It is often about taking what you have currently; what you have created for yourself, what you have been given – and making the most of it. A good result is all about living up to your capabilities. Sometimes, it is about having an idea or strategy and then finding a way to make it real and bringing it to life. Often, we look at the hard skills needed to get good results, and I write about that and speak on these subjects with my clients and mentorees, yet your emotional state is just as important, of course.
Positive Psychology is an academic field that studies happiness. According to positive psychologists Ken Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, current research suggests that up to 40 percent of your happiness comes from activities that you actually choose to do. When you are happier, you perform better in virtually all aspects of your life. Your relationships are also usually strengthened as a result. According to a study in the Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, feeling grateful toward your partner — and vice versa — can improve numerous aspects of your relationship, including feelings of connectedness and overall satisfaction as a couple.
In the search for uncovering the secret to happiness, positive psychology keeps returning to one particular concept: gratitude. In multiples studies, researchers have found that if people are purposefully engaged in expressing gratitude, they are more likely to become happier. Gratitude is a feeling. It is an emotion we choose to have based on our willingness to appreciate the good that is around us. I’m going to start off today writing about expressing gratitude towards others, and then move on to the popular notion of expressing gratitude for what we have in our own lives.
Research by Adam Grant of Harvard Business School and The Wharton School, suggests that saying ‘thank you’ goes beyond good manners — it also serves to build and maintain social relationships.
Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth and then in turn, it triggers other helpful behaviours in the person we are helping as well as others. Research has shown that the practice of gratitude helps us cope better with stress, improves our health and increases positive feelings such as hope, and peace. We can also use gratitude’s power to help us through tough times. Incredible things happen, when the little phrase “thank you” is used and used meaningfully.
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ~~John F Kennedy.
Just as an act of kindness can make both the receiver and giver feel great so does expressing gratitude. We give the best of ourselves when we are thankful. Here are 6 ways you can express gratitude and boost happiness:
Keep it simple: Instead of thinking about how best to express your thanks, just say it. Tell the person “Thank you” or “I appreciate it” and let that be the end of it. Gratitude is something that can be easily expressed just as long as it’s genuine. Expressing gratitude is as important as anything else in your relationships because it builds trust and respect.
Write a letter: Sometimes the best thing we can do is use the power of the written word to express our thanks. Get a thank you card or a piece of stationary and write a letter. It’s one of the most personal ways of expressing gratitude nowadays, especially since few people take the time to write by hand. Again, you can keep it simple by letting the person know that you appreciate them. You can hand deliver the letter or drop it in the mail so it can be a nice surprise in between the stack of junk mail and bills.
Give a gift: When someone does something nice for you, a nice way to express your appreciation is to give a small “thank you” present. This doesn’t have to be anything costly or extravagant, just something that shows that you appreciate what they have done for you. For instance, you might give a coffee lover a gift certificate to their favourite coffee shop or buy a chocolate lover a gourmet piece of chocolate. It’s a simple gesture that can go a long way.
Return the favour: If someone has done something nice for you, a simple way to show your appreciation is to return the favour by giving your time. For instance, if someone has helped you during a time of need, tell them that you want to take them to lunch, dinner, or dessert for being such an instrumental person in your life. This lets them know you appreciate them and it also gives you a chance to chat and grow closer.
Tell others: In the presence of the person or people you wish to thank, share your gratitude with others. Public forms of gratitude are important because it shows just how much you appreciate and care for others. This will also help you let go of any insecurities, jealousy, or anger because you are putting others first.
Forget the Negative: All obstacles, struggles, pain and setbacks are only as powerful as we allow them to be. Letting go of the bad, letting go of the negative – is as important as focusing on the good. Dwell only on what can help you achieve your potential and discard the rest.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” ~ William Arthur Ward.
Being constantly happy is not realistic or even practical. We need adversity. Our well-being is determined by the meaning we give to each situation. We can choose to feel happy based on actions we take. Pain and struggle are vital for growth and mastery. The meaning we apply to the pain is what really determines our happiness. If we can be thankful for the experiences and appreciate what is happening, we then are in control over our personal happiness. Be thankful. Tell others you appreciate them. Process and deal with the negative. Do those things and you will develop gratitude and find more happiness.
Psychology research tends to suggest that gratitude plays an important part in our lives and contributes to our levels of satisfaction when applied to ourselves too. You can go and research it yourself, go to PubMed, Plosone or even search in google scholar and you’ll find a bunch of research to support this notion. Here are just a few references that I have explored and read while putting this article together:
Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 84(2), pp. 377-389.
McCullough, M. E., Kilpatrick, S. D., Emmons, R. A. & Larson, D. B. (2001) Is gratitude a moral affect? Psychological Bulletin, Vol 127(2), pp. 249-266.
Emmons, R. A., & Shelton, R. M. (2002) Gratitude and the science of positive psychology. In Handbook of positive psychology, S. E. Wright (Ed).
Froha, J. F., Sefickb, W. J. & Emmons, R. A. (2008) Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology. Volume 46, Issue 2, pp. 213–233
Grant, A. M. & Gino, F. (2010) A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98(6), pp. 946-955.
…… The notion of gratitude then, is an evidence-based one. Who’d have thought it?
One of the authors of a recent study entitled “Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction” James Roberts, states the following:
“Our ability to adapt to new situations may help explain why ‘more stuff’ doesn’t make us any happier. As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier — we simply raise our reference point. That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption.
We continue to purchase more and more stuff but we don’t get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill.”
The authors go on to quote the Greek philosopher Epicurus:
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
I love that. Read it back to yourself a couple of times before moving on, really let it sink in. Anyone who derives pleasure from hardcore shopping should have this quote sewn into the inside of their wallet or purse!
This has helped me a great deal. That is, this notion has been useful for me personally, but it also has helped me to fortify a central notion within my own new audio programme about developing a wealth mindset; that you should choose how you interpret the notion of wealth. Also, that you do not think of wealth in purely financial terms. For me, wealth is being able to have enough time to spend with my children as they grow up, time to train for marathons, time to research for my PhD – as well as earning enough money to keep us in the lifestyle that we currently have.
Many classic wealth and personal development texts/books (Prosperity, As a Man Thinketh, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, just for starters) use the metaphor that the mind is like a fertile garden and that the thoughts we place into it subsequently manifest themselves into what we get in life.
Well, this notion of gratitude makes that metaphorical garden far, far more fertile.
When I plan for each new period of time ahead, I also like to have a retrospective look at the year that has just passed. We look at what went well, we look at what projects earned us money, we look at what we enjoyed and so on. Away from my work, I also record a yearly film of my family and all the times we had together that I want to give to my kids as a collection of films when they are older to show them how life was growing up.
It has been my experience, that lots of people reflect upon periods of time and recall personal loss and trauma which I understand, however many people also take it a step further and remind themselves of things they did not do or should have done, things they did not accomplish. This is potentially problematic and goes against the notion of expressing gratitude.
Be realistic, and don’t just ignore the bad stuff (it can be valuable learning), but also reflect and review with gratitude. Concentrate on what went right and what you did do well.
Even if you are missing people that may not be in your life anymore, or you have not reduced those extra few pounds from your waistline, or didn’t earn your first billion pounds with your invention you presented to the Dragon’s in their Den, that may not be a valid reason to be upset or reflect negatively.
Consider those that are no longer with us and see if you can be grateful for the love you shared with them, and the laughs you had together. I would love my Grandparents to have met my children. It saddens me that they will not get to do so. But I love remembering what I learned from them and I am grateful for the parties I had in their homes and the laughs in the pub, the Christmases enjoyed and so on. They enriched my life greatly.
It’s a challenge to think about the things you have already got, if you are distracted with wanting other things all the time. It’s difficult to think about the things you did do, when you’re concentrating so hard on the things you didn’t do.
Being grateful for what you have and what you have done is something that you can do at anytime to receive the benefits. Many authors tend to believe that if you want more of something, then simply be grateful for the things you already have. I don’t want to reach that far even. Simply use gratitude to advance your degree of satisfaction with life – because that is being wealthy.
One of the simplest ways to benefit from gratitude is to create an ongoing, ever-developing list of all the things you have in your life. This can include ‘stuff’ if you want – a roof over your head, a means of transport, a favourite jacket.
‘Things’ do not have to be physical things either. You can be thankful for the love you have in your life, relationships, friendships, laughter as well as the knowledge you have, feelings you enjoy and everything in between.
A lot of modern TV culture tends to have young people in particular yearning to be famous, yearning to have millions of pounds to live the lifestyles of those they see on the telly, and this creates a gulf between that dream and where they currently are. Why not enjoy and be grateful for the entertainment they provide instead? Be grateful for having the capacity to dream?
Be grateful for the sunrise you saw when you drove to work early, the colour of your hair, your current home, the dinner you enjoyed, and just about everything else you can think of. Then build your list, add to it regularly.
If you want to be evidence-based about it, conduct your own research experiment: express gratitude for a week and record your findings and/or any differences in your life – then decide if the differences make it worthwhile doing some more.
Consider creating another list; an “accomplishments and achievements” list. Write down all the things that you are proud of that you have done in your life.
This does not have to be exclusively massive things like “discovered cure for common cold” – it can be experiences you shared with family, jokes you shared with friends, times you got your to-do list emptied and felt mega-productive, etc.
When you have finished your lists (one for accomplishments, one for all the things you have in your life to be grateful about) enjoy reading it back to yourself. Be grateful for every single thing on those lists. Keep the list handy, review it daily, add to them, and get the gratitude perpetuating. Make it an integral part of your day to reflect with gratitude. Offer yourself some ongoing encouragement, praise, acceptance and gratitude – it’ll make you feel wealthier!
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