“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”—Elizabeth Gilbert
Gratitude is perhaps the most powerful force that we can use to improve the quality of our lives, find happiness and fulfilment, create and maintain loving relationships and improve our health. Knowing what we are grateful for in life means knowing who we are, what matters to us and what makes each day meaningful. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (2003) found that people who practice gratitude experience greater emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t. Their study showed that those who consciously focused on gratitude:
- Experienced greater levels of joy and happiness
- Felt better and more fulfilled in their lives
- Felt positive about the future
- Demonstrated more determination, focus, enthusiasm and energy
- Experienced fewer symptoms of stress
- Experienced better sleep duration and sleep quality
- Were more likely to offer emotional support to other
- Had a greater sense of feeling connected to others
Practicing gratitude can help us live wholeheartedly, because gratitude helps us be in a positive frame of mind, focus in the present moment, experience profound inner transformation and improve our health. Practicing gratitude also counteracts our sense of scarcity, the all-too-common feeling that there’s never enough of anything, be it money, love, time.
Here are four ways to cultivate gratitude:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal.
Dutch philosopher Rabbi Spinoza, was one of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:
Who or what inspired me today?
What brought me happiness today?
What brought me comfort and deep peace today?
This practice can help us find more meaning and joy in our lives and lead us to a more meaningful way of being in the world. This practice will help you become more aware of things that you perhaps consider to be “little”, like the fact that you wake up in warm flat; your ability to walk, see, touch, smell, hear; spending time with a good friend; receiving or giving a hug.
You can write in your journal anytime during the day. It could be when you wake up in the morning, on ab read at work, just before going to bed, before you meditate. It doesn’t matter what part of the day you choose to write on your gratitude journal; what is important is that you consistently take a few moments to consciously focus your mind on what you feel grateful for. Remember that what we feed grows in our life. By feeling gratitude for all the goodness we experience, we’re inviting the universe to give us more and more of what we want.
2. Practise Minfdulness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally…as if your life depended on it.” He recommends it as “a way of connecting with your life… that doesn’t involve a lot of energy” but rather “a kind of cultivating attention in a particular way.” When we practice mindfulness, we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting lost or over-reacting. Mindfulness enables us to stay more connected to the people around us and awaken to what we’ve been missing, while plugging along in our daily existence. Practicing mindfulness is an ongoing, organic and effective way to tap into our feelings of gratitude and bring your attention into the present moment, which is the moment in which miracles can unfold.
3. Write a Thank-You Letter.
Write down a list of people that have had a profound impact on who you are today. Choose one and write a thank you letter expressing gratitude for everything that person has taught you or offered to you. If possible, deliver your gratitude letter in person. This can be very powerful both for the person that has written the letter, but also for the person that receives it. While we may often thank people verbally, the written word can often be even more powerful because someone has taken the time to write their appreciation. A letter can also be re-read and treasured, creating loving energy that will have a ripple effect in your relationships.
4. Challenge Your Inner Critic.
Our inner critic is like a dark cloud over our heads sprinkling negative thoughts about ourselves and others. This voice takes us out of the present moment and keeps us entirely in our heads, distorting how we see the world. When we listen to this voice, we are often disconnected from other people and we fail to see the world around us through a more compassionate realistic lens. We fail to appreciate what is good in our lives, in ourselves and others. We lose sight of the fact that we have the power to pursue what gives our lives meaning. Psychotherapy can help us change our life-scripts, become more aware of this destructive voice and not let it control our lives.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.