If you choose to read this chapter, be prepared to feel consistently happier than you ever have before. Be prepared to give thanks for a sunny day. Be prepared to give thanks for a rainy day, for a hot day or a cold day. And for a day with peace in your neighborhood. Be prepared to give thanks for your friends and also for those people who work to build your character by trying your patience.
Be prepared for less depression and more kindness towards people you don’t even know. Also be prepared for an increased interest in things like physical fitness, healthier eating and progress toward personal goals.
Two psychologists, Dr. Michael McCollough, of SMU in Dallas, Texas and Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis report:
- People who practice daily gratitude exercises have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.
- Expressing gratitude is able to explain well-being more than any other of the most commonly studied personality traits.
- Life satisfaction has a much larger correlation with gratitude and much smaller with age, education, income, intelligence or attractiveness.
Since beginning to study gratitude, it has become an essential part of my life. Sometimes lying in bed in at night, starting at my toes, I give thanks for every part of my body. If I have a headache, I take an aspirin followed by giving thanks for the many wondrous experiences that my head facilitates for me each day. When washing my hands, I give thanks for hot water and remember the times living in Turkey in the Peace Corps when there was only cold water running from the faucet. And then there are blessings to all of those in the world who don’t have running water of any kind.
To increase the level of gratitude that we experience, here are a few suggestions.
- Pay attention to good things, large and small. The other day I met a woman who had decreasing eyesight well as hearing. When I asked her for what she was grateful for, she said, “At least I am not completely blind”.
- Pay attention to bad things that are avoided. Recently a friend fell off her bike and was so grateful that the only thing injured was her self-confidence. She knew she needed to get back on the bike as soon as possible.
- Practice downward comparisons. When returning from a strenuous hike and feeling very achy, I can give thanks that I didn’t need a cane or walker and that a hot bath and a rest will take care of the aches.
- Establish regular times to focus on being grateful. Gratitude is a character strength that can be enhanced with practice.
- Elicit and reinforce gratitude in the people around us. Positive moods are catching but negative ones can be as well. How do you tell people around you who are negative that you don’t want to be around negative people without being negative yourself? Actually, now that I think about it, since I’ve become more positive, I haven’t been around many negative people. Isn’t it interesting how that works!
Probably the best known and most useful of all tools for those who want to reinforce all of the benefits of being grateful, is starting a Gratitude Journal.
- Choose a blank notebook or journal. I like a spiral-bound notebook that opens flat for ease in writing. Keep it somewhere convenient; next to your bed, in your car, at your desk. Or you might want more than one.
- Be aware of things during the day for which you are grateful. View obstacles as opportunities to appreciate. You will attract more positive energy.
- In the evening, review your day and include anything big or small that was a source of gratitude, e.g., flowers in bloom, good tires on your car, new hazelnut coffee and the fact that you can see, read and write which allows you the opportunity to write in your gratitude journal.
- You might have fun personalizing the gratitude journal with clips, photos, quotes, etc.
It is normal and healthy to express regret and mourn losses when painful things occur in our lives. That must not ever be missed. When we don’t acknowledge those distressing emotions, we cannot fully experience joy. I remember crying uncontrollably when my sister died twelve years ago of breast cancer.
The pain went down so deep that I felt I had reached the depth of my being. It was there that I experienced release and was overwhelmed with the comfort that I felt. When the deep pain passed I was able to recall and be grateful for times we had spent at the beach together as kids and the nights as adults when we stayed up late talking about the meaning of God in our lives.
I still talk to my sister late at night when I am having a problem that I think she could help me with. Grief and gratitude can exist together and can even enhance each other.
Most of all, it is rewarding to develop our gratitude muscles. Like with any workout, in order to receive the benefits, we need to practice regularly even when we don’t feel like it. When we realize how being grateful has made our lives happier and more satisfying, we can record that in our gratitude journal as well.
It is a gift to feel grateful for being grateful.