What exactly is gratitude?
Before we dive into what is the importance of gratitude, it would be wise to ask the question what exactly is gratitude? It is essentially the quality of being thankful. It could also be described as the feeling of appreciation. It could be a kindness paid to you, just taking a moment to count your blessings or looking at the wonders of nature that surround us that gives us feelings of gratitude.
Why should we take time to cultivate feelings of gratitude?
Robert Emmins, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that people who have purposefully practiced gratitude for 3 weeks continuously showed a radical increase in health and happiness. These included lowered blood pressure, better sleeping patterns, greater self care (e.g. exercising more), feeling more alert and optimistic as well as being more sociable, outgoing and forgiving. Now please don’t think you need to get stuck at 3 weeks! Further studies show that the longer you practice gratitude the more of the benefits you will feel.
Fixating on what we are grateful for takes our attention away from what we don’t have, puts us in the here and now and makes us aware of what we DO have. What we focus on expands so it makes sense that purposefully focusing on what we do have has a snowballing benefit.
If you read my post on The Law of Attraction and Health, you would have seen that the body is a complete machine and our mind and body are inextricably linked. The feel good factor of gratitude is something that can only have a positive impact on your overall health, particularly in the area of anxiety. You can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time.
Keeping a gratitude journal
This is one of the most powerful ways to get going on your gratitude journey. Write down a minimum of 3 things that you are grateful for. Don’t just write them down in a hurry, but take a moment to consider these things and how they make you feel.
You can do this at the start of each day ( I do this in the morning as it puts me in a great frame of mind for the day ahead) but if you prefer, you could do it at night before you go to bed or better still you could do both!
If you are particularly stuck about feeling grateful (perhaps you are going through a particularly hard time), think about the very basic things you do that you take for granted. For example, did you manage to get yourself out of bed to go to the bathroom when you woke up? Some people would have to ring a bell to get assistance. Do you have hot water for your shower? Did you have something to make a meal with? You can take this a step further and, as you go through your day, score anything that gives you pleasure out of 10. The incredible thing about this process is that it gets your brain looking for more and more things to be grateful for and you will absolutely find them.
An alternative gratitude journal
Comedian Steve Harvey advises that you should take as long as you like one day and write every single thing to can think of to be grateful for – from waking up in the morning to a sunny day to a good exam result – everything. Then the next day write everything that you want to have in your life on a separate page. He says that he has done this many times and has found that simply by giving thanks, that more and more things on his ‘want’ list end up moving over to his grateful list! He says he is sure that God, seeing how grateful he is for what he already has, is excited to give him more!
Be inspired by the past
When facing difficult life situations, look back at times when you have come through challenging times. Do not dwell on the struggle of the past but simply reflect on how resilient and resourceful you are and how well able you are to come up with solutions to any challenges.
Your new habit of gratitude could take a beating if you surround yourself with the wrong company. We all know them.- they never miss an opportunity to drain you of your joy and energy. You ask them how they are and they have a long list of complaints. These are in the same league as people with a sense of entitlement and think the world owes them (a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable). Make sure to spend the minimum of time possible with these ‘bucket dippers’! (If you are unfamiliar with the term ‘bucket dippers’, check out How To Be A Likable Person.) We can all have an off day, but be sure to surround yourself with like-minded, grateful, glass half-full (or glass full!) people. You are apparently the average of the 5 people you spend most time with (in outlook, salary and anything else you can measure!) so choose who you spend time with wisely.
There are few things that feel better in life than going out of your way to help someone going through a hard time or who is less fortunate than you. This may be helping people in your own circle or looking for volunteering opportunities in your community. This in turn will give you more reasons to feel grateful – firstly for having the opportunity to make someone’s day and secondly for the reminder of what you have to be thankful for yourself. Do you know someone who lives alone and would really enjoy more contact from people? If you make the effort to get in touch, I guarantee that when you do, you will feel as good as they do.
Decide to live in gratitude
The next time you are aware of feeling a bit down, I challenge you to think about what you have been thinking about and take a moment to list what you are grateful for. It won’t take long until it changes your state of being. As Paul said in Philippians 4:8 ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.’
A note for the clinically depressed
A possible exception to the above would be if you are clinically depressed. I went through a phase in my early 20s of suffering from depression and the fact that I had lots of things to be grateful for only made me feel worse when I thought about them – I knew I had every reason to be happy but was despairing. If this is you, don’t beat yourself up. I do believe these practices can help if you are a bit down or suffering from a reactive type of depression, but do seek medical advice if absolutely nothing lifts your spirits.
What are your experiences of purposefully practicing gratitude? I would love to know so please feel free to drop a comment below.