“Once we discover how to appreciate the timeless values in our daily experiences, we can enjoy the best things in life.” (Harry Hepner, from The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude; S. Breathnach, 1996).
So there it is….the key to happiness, or certainly one of them, is gratitude, and science can back it up! An article in Harvard Health Publishing (online) called “In Praise of Gratitude” reports that two psychologists conducted research by asking participants in three groups to record daily what they were grateful for, irritated by, or felt neutral about; those who recorded what they were grateful for were more optimistic, felt better about their lives and exercised more. Other research described in the same article reported that gratitude can improve relationships by increasing positive feelings about the person, the relationship in general, and by fostering greater comfort in talking about concerns within the relationship (https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude).
In fact, almost everything I came across in my research suggested writing down what we are grateful for, as in using a gratitude journal. “Recording these positive experiences boosts levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy, especially when compared to those who recorded or focused on negative events. Research shows that recording experiences for which one is grateful for only two consecutive weeks has lasting positive effects sustained for up to six months. It therefore behooves us to keep a gratitude journal (Dr. Randy Kamen, online: The Transformative Power of Gratitude https://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-kamen-gredinger/the-transformative-power-_2_b_6982152.html)
The article also goes on to describe other ways of cultivating gratitude including practicing a gratitude meditation, which trains the mind for greater positivity. Our thoughts have the power to shape our brains! Negative thoughts are like Velcro (they stick), and positive ones are like Teflon (slide away), so the more you practice gratitude, the more new neural pathways in your brain you will create – we need to actively focus on the positive thoughts and experiences more in order to make them stick!
So what is gratitude? According to Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude, says “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received….In the second part of gratitude, he explains, ‘we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…We acknowledge that other people…gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives’” (online: What is Gratitude? http://gratefulness.org/resource/what-is-gratitude/). Emmons also explains how expressing gratitude can block negative emotion, as seen in this short You Tube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRV8AhCntXc
Gratitude helps us in other ways as well. Better energy and self-esteem, improved self-care, improved immune function and decreased blood pressure, among others (The Transformative Power of Gratitude, online – see above link).
Gratitude overlaps with generosity and the practice of mindfulness. Gratitude has the mindset of I have (as opposed to I don’t have) which shifts our attention from being driven to be busy, to one of peace and contentment, say Wolf and Serpa in their book A Clinician’s guide to Teaching Mindfulness, 2015). Once we believe we have enough, giving becomes more spontaneous, which in turns circles back to how gratitude can enhance relationships. And on a mindful note, the best time to practice gratitude is the present – when you are actually experiencing it – being present and mindful in your day-to-day life.
“…. If what we are now has been the result of our past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in the future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act”. (Swami Vivekananada, 1863-1902, India. From 1001 Pearls of Yoga Wisdom, Lark, L., 2008, p. 49). If you want experience contentment and feel better about your life….practice gratitude!
If you want to download an app to remind you about gratitude, try this https://www.unstuck.com/about/. Please take the time to watch this short video on gratitude – worth the 5 minutes:
Thank you for reading this blog 🙂