Society holds gratitude in high esteem. Everyone wants to be more grateful which is a desirable human characteristic, however few of us actually are. Gratitude is about acknowledging that we have received something from someone else that we value and appreciate. The purpose of being grateful is to make life better for ourselves and others and to overcome the human tendency to take things, people or situations for granted. We shouldn’t feel entitled to the benefits, or to resent others for their benefits and nor to take credit for our own success. There were always others involved but supported, guided and believed in us.
But why do we struggle so much with this hugely inspiring characteristic? Gratitude doesn’t come naturally for most of us, whereas resentment and entitlement do. Gratitude is a virtue, which means that it needs to be taught, modelled, and regularly practiced until it becomes an automatic habit.
To complicate matters, gratitude has been identified as a trait (hereditary pre-disposition), an emotion and a mood. It starts off as an emotional reaction of feeling thankful and recognising the contribution others have made to our life and well-being. It then develops into a mood of a subtle, longer-duration of conscious state and ends as a permeable character trait.
There are multiple benefits to enhancing our level of gratitude:
- Promotes optimal functioning
- Promotes feelings of empathy, forgiveness and helping others
- Facilitates coping with stress and loss
- Reduces upward social comparison that often results in envy and resentment
- Reduces materialistic striving
- Improves self-esteem
- Allows us to savour positive and pleasant memories
- Builds social resources
- Motivates moral and ethical behaviour
- Fosters goal attainment
- Promotes physical health
- Increases one’s spirituality
After reading those powerful benefits, I am certain you are excited to learn and grow your gratitude levels. Here are some ideas on how to do exactly that:
- If you enjoy journaling, this one is for you! Take five minutes at the start or end of your day where you write down what you are grateful for. It can cover a wide range of things from the mundane to the magnificent. However, vary it and challenge yourself to look for new gratitude nuggets.
- Express gratitude directly to another person. Write to them or tell them directly what you appreciate about them as a person or what they did for you. Expect some tears with this one!
- Take note of an ungrateful thought that popped into your head and consciously reframe it to a positive thought. This takes some practice in catching the thought.
Whichever idea you use, remain curious and open-minded. If one suggestion doesn’t work, swop it for another one. Experiment and play with this. Keep it varying and fresh. As the year draws to an end it’s the ideal time to reflect and express gratitude to the people who have supported you through the year.
Have fun and spread gratitude!
References: Chapter 16 – R.A. Emmons & A. Mishia pg. 248-262 Watkins