World Gratitude Day is over for another year (it was on 21st September). But, because practising gratitude seems to keep turning up as one of the surest things we can do to increase our happiness and build our resilience when time are hard, here are some ways that gratitude can help to build our happiness and resilience between now and next year’s day of celebration…
World Gratitude Day was started in 1977 by the United Nations Meditation Group. It’s a time to celebrate your existence, passions, local hero’s, relatives, friends and all the little things that bring joy into your everyday existence. What do you value? Who do you appreciate? How do you express your gratitude to others?
Here are some ways you can incorporate gratitude into your life.
Life’s Challenges – If you’re having a hard time understanding why a particular situation might be happening to you, realize this is an opportunity for you to grow and learn. …This mentality can help transform you from an obsessive complainer into a more motivated and positive individual…
Outstanding Qualities – Try your best to focus on people’s good qualities instead of their negative traits. … This can help improve your relationships with others by letting them know you appreciate them by taking notice of their admirable personality traits…
Donate Your Time – Putting the needs of other people ahead of your own can be very satisfying. … You can make the world a better place by bringing joy to others and helping people realise that they are not alone. There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude…
Gratitude Journal – Purchase a journal and begin writing down the things you are grateful for each day. Make a commitment to write and review your journal entries either first thing in the morning or at night before you go to bed. Your journal can come in handy if you are having a bad day by reminding you to view life’s obstacles as opportunities for growth. Consider writing down your struggles for the day and overcome them by listing positive angles for each one. Personalise your journal by including pictures of your loved ones or your pets, along with famous quotes that help motivate or inspire you.
Thoughtful Gesture – Show your appreciation by surprising someone with a thoughtful gift when they least expect it. There are many ways you can surprise someone without draining your bank account and the impact can last a lifetime…
David DeSteno writes…
When life’s got you down, gratitude can seem like a chore. Sure, you’ll go through the motions and say the right things — you’ll thank people for help they’ve provided or try to muster a sense of thanks that things aren’t worse. But you might not truly feel grateful in your heart. It can be like saying “I’m happy for you” to someone who just got the job you wanted. The words and the feelings often don’t match.
This disconnect is unfortunate, though. It comes from a somewhat misguided view that gratitude is all about looking backward — back to what has already been. But in reality, that’s not how gratitude truly works. At a psychological level, gratitude isn’t about passive reflection, it’s about building resilience. It’s not about being thankful for things that have already occurred and, thus, can’t be changed; it’s about ensuring the benefits of what comes next. It’s about making sure that tomorrow, and the day after, you will have something to be grateful for.
One of the central findings to emerge from psychological science over the past decade is that certain emotions serve socially adaptive functions. When we experience emotions like compassion, admiration, and shame, they drive us to alter our behaviors toward others. As Adam Smith intuited long ago, these innate feelings, or moral sentiments, impel us to act in ways that benefit our fellow humans — to engage with them in behaviors that foster the common good. And in the case of gratitude, the evidence couldn’t be clearer. In the face of loss, tragedy, or disaster, few psychological mechanisms can do more to benefit an individual’s or a society’s ability to thrive…
The more gratitude people feel, the more likely it is they’ll help anyone, even if it’s someone they’ve never laid eyes on before.
These benefits aren’t limited to direct face-to-face encounters. Given the option, grateful people will make financial decisions that “lift all boats” even when offered options to increase their own profit at another’s expense. In these times, where the click of a button can move funds to anywhere in the world where they’re needed, gratitude-induced giving can have a powerful effect.
Such occurrences of indirect reciprocity — the extending of help to new people — is known to kick cooperation in a group into high gear. In the face of individual or societal tragedies, then, any phenomenon that can enhance such indiscriminate paying-it-forward stands as a key to resilience.
So next time you have the opportunity to say “thank you,” don’t let it ring hollow. Embrace the gratitude; feel it as deeply as you can, because in so doing, you’re actually increasing the odds that in the future we’ll all have more for which to be grateful. On the deepest, unconscious level, gratitude is really about being grateful for the actions that are yet to come.
…Colour me surprised to find that some of the claims about gratitude are backed up by good science. Below are the three most compelling reasons that I found to start a gratitude practice.
1. Practicing Gratitude Makes You Happier
…research shows that 90% of happiness is actually determined by the way the brain processes the world.
Thus, changing the way we see the world can change our reality and even make us happier. Professor, author, and happiness researcher Shawn Achor works with people in many different contexts to determine what constitutes happiness and how to cultivate that. He’s discovered that simply listing three new things to be grateful each day for 21 days can change the way the brain works.
Creating a gratitude list begins to reprogram the human brain for positivity. This releases brain chemicals like dopamine, which allow the brain to perform better. This improvement happens across the board, causing people to be more creative, better at problem solving, etc.
As it turns out, a positive, well-performing brain is a happy brain, and a happy brain makes for a happy life. Achor discusses his research in more depth in his TED talk, which is well worth a listen.
2. Gratitude Gives Us Purpose
Do you ever wonder where you’re going in life, or why you were put on this earth, anyway? Practicing gratitude can help you find answers to those questions.
It may seem a bit naive to say that simply giving thanks for the good things in your life will help you find your life’s purpose. However, practicing gratitude highlights the good things in our lives. It makes us stop and take a look at them, and spend at least a little time dwelling on the things we already have that make us happy.
There’s not too much distance between happiness and purpose. Often, gratitude serves not so much to help us discover a new purpose, but rather to see the purpose our lives already contain. When we are thankful for our family members, we can develop a renewed sense of purpose in caring for them, helping them, and cultivating those relationships on a deeper level. When we are thankful for our work, we can remember why we chose that work in the first place, what drove us there, etc…
3. Gratitude Is Good for Our Bodies
If happiness and a renewed sense of purpose are not enough, cultivating gratitude is also good for our bodies. It helps us sleep better, improves anxiety and depression, improves immune functioning, lessens symptoms of illness, lowers blood pressure, and more.
Some people think it sounds crazy that something as simple as including gratitude practice in our daily lives can improve our health, but the research all shows that it can. It makes a bit more sense if you think about it in terms of happiness.
We’ve already talked about how being grateful can make the brain function better and, thus, make you happier. A happy, well-functioning brain is going to do a better job of managing the rest of the body and working more efficiently and easily, which means that your whole physical being will be stronger…
How to Practice Gratefulness Daily
There are so many ways to practice gratitude. Many people do what Achor suggests and list at least three new things that they’re grateful for every day. Some have dedicated notebooks for the task. Others use a new piece of paper every day and simply stack them together. Some just list each item in a few words or a sentence, while others journal about them, writing a paragraph or even a page for each one.
Still other people find that their gratitude practice looks different. Some photograph the things they’re grateful for, while others draw them. Some say their lists out loud, because hearing their own voice helps cement the feeling of gratitude. Others try to legitimately compliment the people around them every day, so that they can share their gratefulness. (See also: 21 Ways to Say Thanks)
To ensure daily practice, set aside some time each day for giving thanks. Keep your notebook or other materials someplace where you’ll see them, so you remember your practice. And stick with it — even if you feel silly or you have a particularly bad day, give gratefulness a chance.
Fifty years ago we were being told that ‘you’ve never had it so good’ and the arrival of mod cons was going to usher us into an Age of Leisure. Instead we’ve entered an era where so many of the certainties and foundations of life are crumbling – relationships, jobs, communities. And whereas previous centuries brought epidemics of physical disease, the 21st century is experiencing an epidemic of stress & depression – overwork or no work, constant juggling, job insecurity, redundancy, divorce and the demands of caring for children and families. Whatever happened to work/life balance?
Mostly we pay attention to our physical health and let our psychological health look after itself. But just as there are things like diet and exercise that support our physical well-being, there are also actions that can support our mental and emotional well-being so that we feel better and function well. The Happiness Habits are like a form of psychological hygiene – scientifically-grounded practices that build resilience to help you cope with the stresses of life, overcome the tendency to anxiety and depression and stop the downwards spiral into something worse.
Here is a preview of the 8 habits of happiness, which Positive Psychology are teaching in an evening class that runs from September 30thuntil November 18th in Bristol.
Savour Positive Experiences. This is about deepening the enjoyment of life’s good times so that you squeeze all the juice out of a positive experience.
Practise Gratitude. Appreciating what’s good in life and what’s going well so that you can overcome the mind’s negativity bias which makes us notice what’s wrong before we notice what’s right.
Use your Strengths. Identifying and playing to your strengths rather than focusing on your weaknesses – one of the best ways to build well-being and reduce symptoms of depression.
Live Life with Meaning & Purpose. This is about the deeper form of happiness. The things that give you a sense of fulfilment.
Nurture Relationships. Our connections to others are the no1 source of happiness which is precisely why they need tender loving care.
Learn Optimism. Optimism is psychological self-defence, thinking strategies that can protect you from the pessimistic thinking that drags you down.
Build your Resilience. The good news is that resilience is ‘ordinary magic’ there are many everyday things that help you bounce back from difficulty.
Positive Directions. Having a goal in mind gives you a sense of progress and achievement.
How to Get Started With Your List
As with any new habit, start small: Decide that every day, starting today, you’re going to write down five things you’re grateful for. Eventually, you can make your list any length you want, but to start, set a goal of coming up with at least five things a day.
There are only two rules to getting gratitude right:
First, pick a place to keep all your lists, so it’s easy to refer back to them—and chart how you’ve changed. You can use a journal, a Google document or even a notepad program on your phone.
Second, when writing your list, make each item a full sentence that begins, “I’m grateful for …” or “I’m grateful that …” This way, it’s a complete thought, and you’re not just listing things or people, but actively associating them with giving thanks.
Other than that, it’s up to you: Your list can be composed of specific things—honeycrisp apples with almond butter, cabs, an upcoming trip to Iceland—or abstract—courage, perspective, help in all its forms. It can be about small things—funny things people write on your Facebook wall—or big ones—friends and their love. Just go with what comes to you. Also, consider sharing your list with others. Each morning I email my list out to a few like-minded friends, and we share our gratitude lists with each other.
How Being Thankful Can Help You
There are many benefits associated with cultivating gratitude. In “The Happiness Project,” author Gretchen Rubin cited studies showing that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives—they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising.
And that’s not all. She also points out ways gratitude can improve how we feel about our financial picture:
It makes us unlikely to feel envy, because you’re grateful for what we have instead of pining for something else
It makes it easier for us to live within our means
It makes it easier for us to be generous to others
Once you start seeing the extra goodness your list brings to your life, you may find one more thing to be grateful for: the very practice of gratitude itself.
Sometimes I wake up and my first thought is I didn’t get enough sleep. I get to the fridge to find that I don’t have enough fruit to make my smoothie. And then I look at my to-do list and realize I don’t have enough time to get even half way through it.
I get in my car and discover that I don’t have enough gas to get to the yoga studio. Later, I come home to a letter from my bank manager telling me I don’t earn enough for a mortgage.
And I spend the rest of the day feeling like I’m just not good enough.
The Never Enough Problem
Never good enough.
Never thin enough.
Never clever enough.
Never pretty enough.
Never rich enough.
Never successful enough.
We could all fill in the blank of “never __________ enough.”
We spend our lives calculating how much we have, how much we want, and how much we don’t have. And we compare this to what everyone else has (or to the visions of perfection we get from the media) – a self-defeating cycle that will always ends with the same conclusion: We are lacking. We never have enough. We never are enough.
But there is an answer to the Never Enough Problem: Gratitude.
Gratitude is what makes the glass half full. It reminds you that you have enough and that you are enough.
I created a Gratitude Jar a couple of months ago. It started as nothing special, just an old-fashioned glass jar with a ribbon tied around the rim. Every day, sometimes several times a day, I write down what I am grateful for and add these “Gratitude Notes” to my jar.
And remarkable things have happened.
My outlook on life has shifted. I no longer feel like I am inadequate and lacking from the moment I wake up or berate myself for not getting through my to-do list. I appreciate the food that I have, the time that I have, the people that I have.
Appreciating yourself for your strengths AND your imperfections (not in spite of them), allows you to find a sense of belonging and to feel more connected to life.
When I have a down day (we all have them!), a quick glance at my Gratitude Jar reminds me that life is full of wonderful things to be grateful for and I have the strength and support to overcome anything.
But having gratitude doesn’t just happen! It’s a practice we have to foster every day. You wouldn’t expect a flower to grow without water, and you wouldn’t expect your body to get healthier without nourishing it. So you can’t expect to feel like you have enough and you are enough, without nurturing a gratitude for life and an appreciation of yourself…
A decade’s worth of research on gratitude has shown me that when life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness. But what about when life goes badly? In the midst of the economic maelstrom that has gripped our country, I have often been asked if people can—or even should—feel grateful under such dire circumstances.
My response is that not only will a grateful attitude help—it is essential. In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that gratitude will come easily or naturally in a crisis. It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one “feels” grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.
But it is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points.
But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve—but my research says it is worth the effort.
To say that gratitude is a helpful strategy to handle hurt feelings does not mean that we should try to ignore or deny suffering and pain.
The field of positive psychology has at times been criticized for failing to acknowledge the value of negative emotions. Barbara Held of Bowdoin College in Maine, for example, contends that positive psychology has been too negative about negativity and too positive about positivity. To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.
So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.
If you are troubled by an open memory or a past unpleasant experience, you might consider trying to reframe how you think about it using the language of thankfulness. The unpleasant experiences in our lives don’t have to be of the traumatic variety in order for us to gratefully benefit from them. Whether it is a large or small event, here are some additional questions to ask yourself:
What lessons did the experience teach me?
Can I find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened?
What ability did the experience draw out of me that surprised me?
How am I now more the person I want to be because of it? Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude in the time since it occurred?
Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful?
Remember, your goal is not to relive the experience but rather to get a new perspective on it. Simply rehearsing an upsetting event makes us feel worse about it. That is why catharsis has rarely been effective. Emotional venting without accompanying insight does not produce change. No amount of writing about the event will help unless you are able to take a fresh, redemptive perspective on it. This is an advantage that grateful people have—and it is a skill that anyone can learn.
Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.
I’ve seen better days, but I’ve also seen worse. I don’t have everything I want, but I do have all I need. I woke up with some aches and pains, but I woke up. My life may not be perfect, but I am blessed.
If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.
When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is better, say thank you and grow.
When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.
Gratitude is one of the sweet shortcuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something we could be grateful for.
Jessica Cartwright writes
As a 10 year old, it was plain and simple (i.e. thank you for my mom and dad; thank you for my dog Nikki; thank you for my friends; thank you for the s’more I got to eat today), but who says it can’t be now?
This technique often takes longer as an adult than the 60 seconds that it took as little girl, but there are still some nights that within several minutes and bam!..I’m out like a light.
So cheesy it may be, but this is why I consider gratitude to be the revolutionary new sleeping pills…
…in my newfound zeal for finding comfortable and regular sleep, I’ve compiled a list of techniques that have helped me and numerous others to settle into dreamland oh so nicely.
As I mentioned above. It doesn’t have to be anything complex. On the days when it’s really rough and it’s hard to find much to be grateful for, sometimes I just say ‘I’m thankful for my ability to lay here, breathing in and breathing out.’ Usually after that, plenty more blessings come to mind. It’s ok to repeat.
Easy peasy lemon schneezy. Place a hand on the belly. Breathe into your hand. Feel it rise with your inhale and fall with your exhale. Enjoy.
3. Count Breath Downwards.
Inhale Nine…Exhale Nine. Inhale eight…Exhale eight. All the way down to zero. If you lose track, start over again. If you get to one, begin again at nine.
4. Body awareness.
This is a technique I often apply in the Yoga Nidra classes I teach. Yoga Nidra is the yoga of sleep, putting you into a state of deep relaxation somewhere between asleep and awake. The idea is to move through certain parts of your body and allow them to relax completely. ‘Breathing in, I relax my toes (fingers, forehead, legs, stomach, ankles, etc.), breathing out my toes are completely relaxed.’ One of my favorite Yoga Nidra exercises for full body awareness and relaxation can be found here.
5. Don’t think about falling asleep, just try to relax.
A brilliant sleep doctor once told me that half the battle with sleep deprivation is the anxiety that stems from a bad sleep cycle. She suggests lying down and simply focusing on relaxing, in whatever ways work for you. When the pressure is off from trying to fall asleep and the focus is solely on unwinding, most people find slumber after all simply because they are no longer in their heads about it. How refreshing is that? To simply take the pressure off and just relax!
There are a million other ways to get good sleep including a balanced diet, yoga, and regular exercise. But no matter the lifestyle, the above techniques are here to help. And when trying them out, remember that there’s nowhere to go or nowhere to be, just the opportunity to keep coming back to it.
by Tom Jacobs
Can people be taught to act more altruistically? Newly published research, measuring both brain activity and behavior, suggests the answer just may be yes.
“Our findings support the possibility that compassion and altruism can be viewed as trainable skills rather than stable traits,” a research team led by Richard J. Davidson and Helen Weng of the University of Wisconsin-Madison writes in the journal Psychological Science.
Specifically, they report that taking a course in compassion leads to increased engagement of certain neural systems, which prompts higher levels of altruistic behaviour..
Those who received the compassion training spent nearly twice as much of their own money to try to rectify the unfairness: $1.14, as opposed to 62 cents for those who had taken the emotional reappraisal strategy. “This demonstrates that purely mental training in compassion can result in observable altruistic changes toward a victim,” the researchers write.
The brain scans revealed “a pattern of neural changes” in those who had received compassion training, including “neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of other people, executive and emotional control, and reward processing.”
“If the signal of other people’s suffering is indeed increased by compassion training,” the researchers write, this apparently compels them to “approach rather than avoid suffering, in order to engage in pro-social behavior.”…
Linda Thomas Brooks reports:
I got to see the Dalai Lama recently. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was in the U.S. for several appearances…
When I try to distill all the wisdom that the Dalai Lama shared, all the examples and specific practices that I heard, it boils down to this:
Keep working on it…
If the idea that you’re never really done comes across as bad news, here’s some good news. The very idea of looking for the answer is part of the answer. If you want to be happier, however you construe the specifics of that, you can take actions to be happier. When you take those actions, you learn and improve and move forward. The act of cultivating happiness, in and of itself, leads you to more happiness.
There is an increasing amount of hard science validating that happiness — sometimes characterized as well-being — makes you more likely to be successful in your work, in your personal relationships, as a parent, and in other critical life roles. Focusing on your happiness, then, ends up having an impact on the roles that define you and on the important people in your life.
Just like learning any new skill, it will not be a linear progression. If you are learning to golf or to play the piano or speak new language, you know that you are going to have good days and not-so-good days. You can expect resistance, even failure, on any single day or at any particular time. Over time, however, you will see improvement. So goes the progress of achieving happiness. Even if you haven’t reached a goal of ultimate transcendent happiness, you will be getting happier.
Getting happier doesn’t mean that all hurt or disappointment or anger will automatically go away. The Dalai Lama’s message is that by allowing yourself to experience those negative feelings, you begin understand them and figure out how to transform them. Don’t drown or ignore or block the negative feelings, but use them to move forward. Keep working on it…
We all want joy in our lives right? It sure beats feeling down doesn’t it?
A scientific study looking thankfulness and gratitude revealed that both are a key factor to happiness and they are very often forgotten about when considering the feeling of joy. In fact, people who share gratitude on a regular basis experience a greater amount of happiness in their lives. Perhaps it is because we tap into our own internal love when we share gratitude and in turn that affects our overall state -or maybe it is the union that is created when you express gratitude to someone. Either way, it is clear that gratitude is key to experiencing joy in your life.
Having a down day? Thank someone for something and see how it makes you feel -it can’t hurt to try.
Check out the powerful video above for some examples.
To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.
– Mark Twain
Steve McCurry’s new photo collection feature people in pairs showing togetherness.
I think they contribute much to this theme of gratitude.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we always do.
For all of these stories, and more, see this week’s new collection