Thanksgiving: 3 ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Thanksgiving falls on Thursday, November 22nd, and although it’s an American holiday, it’s a good reminder to take some time to think about life and be grateful for the people and things that make it worth living.
We all know it’s good to give thanks, but what a lot of people don’t know is HOW good gratitude can be for our health, happiness and general well-being.
Dr Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California Davis and author of "Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier," says that frequent thankfulness can actually boost happiness by 25%. A growing body of research has shown that people with an attitude of gratitude tend to be kinder, more positive and creative, achieve more goals, and have stronger social relationships.
This is not all that surprising if you really think about it. It makes sense that grateful people are happier and have more friends than grumpy ingrates.
I was more surprised to discover that gratitude provides some significant health benefits as well.
Studies have also shown that grateful people sleep better, exercise more, and have higher energy levels and stronger immune systems, among other things. (You can read more about these findings here and here.)
I’m a well-mannered woman, so I do say “Thanks” whenever appropriate. I like to think I’m pretty grateful. But hmm… I have yet to experience these health perks. (Well, except maybe for the sleeping bit. The part about exercising more just made me LOL.) So I was a bit leery of these supposed findings at first, until I read further and found out that real gratitude (i.e., the awesome type with all the perks) is a little more complex than just minding your manners and providing the occasional pat on the back.
Dr Emmons says that in order for gratitude to yield all these happiness and health benefits, it must be chronic – a habitual attitude of thankfulness, as opposed to one-off reactions. “Feeling gratitude must be ingrained into your personality, and you must frequently acknowledge and be thankful for the role other people play in your happiness.”
This is easier said than done. Like any good habit, gratitude takes time and effort, as well as a good bit of reflection and a side helping of humility. The benefits are worth it, though, so it’s certainly something worth striving for.
There are several ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude (Emmons’ book offers 10) but in the interests of keeping things simple and doable, here are 3 easy ways to get started.
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
Counting blessings daily is an essential component of the attitude of gratitude. The best way to do this is to make a habit of writing them down. Just list 5 things you’re grateful for each day in a notebook (or your gadget of choice). Not only will it make a difference in the way you look at your day; chances are it’ll remind you to actually thank people, or show your appreciation in other ways, and consequently make a difference in their day as well.
2. Turn negatives into positives.
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says that one of the reasons gratitude makes such a significant difference in his life is that it has the power to transform bad things into good things.
Admittedly, when bad things happen, a little whining is normal, and venting is therapeutic. But these solutions are short-term (and in the case of whining, usually pretty useless). There’s something to be gained and/or learned from every negative experience. Find it, and be thankful. Sometimes the only difference between a curse and a blessing is your attitude.
3. Imagine what life would be like WITHOUT a certain blessing in your life.
This is a really good reflective exercise if you’re the type of person who tends to take things and people for granted. My mom used to make me do this when I was younger, and furious at my dad for one reason or another. She’d tell me to sit by his bed when he was asleep and imagine he was dead. Gah! I know, right? Morbid to the max. But it was really, really effective.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to appreciate the people and things that make your life what it is. Take a few minutes of each day to imagine life without a particular blessing you take for granted. This could be a person, a talent you have, or something as basic as air or running water. I’m pretty sure it will make you see everything and everyone with new and more grateful eyes.
Life may not be perfect, but it’s good nevertheless. We just need to remind ourselves of that as often as we can. So I’m thinking of celebrating Thanksgiving this year by making it the start of daily mini-thanksgivings that I’ll practice all year round – hopefully for the rest of my life.
Feel free to join me, if you wish. :) Happy Thanksgiving! - Rappler.com