On practicing the joy of gratitude

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, what better time than now to reflect with gratitude on all the people, moments and things that make our lives richer, deeper and more joyful. According to leading gratitude psychologist and bestselling author of the Little Book of Gratitude, Robert Emmons: 

“Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted.” 

Gratitude is a powerful emotion, but it is one that needs regular attention and nurturing. Researchers at the Greater Good Science Centre have identified four parts that make up the gratitude experience:

  • What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
  • How we THINK about why we have been given these things
  • How we FEEL about the things we have been given
  • What we DO to express appreciation in turn 

Emmon’s studies at the University of California, Davis have shown that people who practice gratitude consistently report a variety of physical, psychological and social benefits. Grateful people are not only more alert and resilient to stress, they sleep better, have a stronger immune system and also have a greater capacity for joy and positivity. 

If you need hard evidence on this, check out the 2017 study on Feeling Thanks and Saying Thanks from the University of Limerick.

Feeling the FOMO? Why don’t you take this week to introduce some gratitude-boosting practices into your daily routine? Here are a few suggestions to get you going…

  1. Start a daily gratitude journal: Each day this week, write down three things that went well for you and why. Try and remember the specific context that made this moment special. If you find yourself drifting into negative thoughts, refocus your attention on the good things and the positive feelings that came from them.
  2. Share your gratitude with a loved one in your life: Surprise your partner with the gift of precious time spent together. Use this time to go for dinner or just a walk in the park. Say thank you for this special relationship and talk about what you appreciate about each other. Reminisce about the memorable moments you have shared and how much joy they bring to your life.
  3. Share your gratitude with a stranger. Practice compassion and generosity with a daily act of random kindness this week and enjoy the buzz of joy that sharing and receiving gratitude can give. You could buy a coffee for a stranger, hold the door open for someone, smile and say hello to someone you pass on the street, make a donation to a local charity, find ways to volunteer in your local community. I’m sure you have lots more ideas of your own.
  4. Write a thank you letter to someone who has had a positive impact on your life. Maybe this is a former school teacher or an old mentor or a stranger who changed your life. You don’t have to send the letter, but write down your thoughts in as much detail as you remember to trigger all those positive associations and emotions you felt at the time.
  5. List the 10 most rewarding moments in your life. What made these moment special? How did you feel? What are you most grateful for? What were you most proud of? Who helped you along the way? Remembering and reflecting and reconnecting with the best moments in your life will boost your confidence and motivation.
  6. List 10 things you are looking forward to in the next year: What career opportunities are around the corner? Which holiday destination are you planning to visit? Which family event or birthday celebration are you looking forward to. As you create the list, connect with the feeling of excitement and anticipation that bubbles up within you and savour that moment of gratitude that these things are possible.
  7. Go for a gratitude walk in your local area: Notice all the things around you that make you feel grateful and at home in this place. For instance, the local park, the late-night shop where you can buy emergency milk, your favourite cafe, the independent bookstore or the friendly pub where you like to hang out with friends. Try and find gratitude even in the small things.
  8. Practice a gratitude meditation. Take 10-15 minutes to relax and reflect on all the things you’re grateful for in your life. From health and home to friends and work, good memories or future opportunities. Dr. Kathi Kemper at the Ohio State University recorded a 10-minute practice exercise to get you going. It is described really well here.
  9. Watch Robert Emmon’s video on why gratitude matters. This one is from the Greater Good Summit in 2014.
  10. Read more about the power of gratitude. There are many sources out there, including Robert Emmon’s book Thanks! How the Science of Gratitude can Make You Happier. But none is more moving than Oliver Sachs’ Gratitude which he wrote in the final stages of his terminal illness in 2015. These powerful reflections on life, death and the challenges of being human are a testament to what it means to live a life of gratitude.

“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; … Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

— Oliver Sachs —

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