Gratitude is an Attitude
Gratitude could be understood in two stages- acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life and recognition that that goodness lies at least partially outside oneself. Gratefulness is also the intentional awareness that we are the recipients of goodness, especially pertaining to the contributions that others have made for our wellbeing.
The attitude of gratitude can be difficult to maintain and sustain in this world. We have a lot of other mental mechanisms that work against the attitude of gratitude. We are forgetful, we take things for granted, we have high expectations, and we believe that we are only responsible for all the good that happens in our life.
Gratitude is a series of conscious decisions that we make which can hone our ability to recognize and acknowledge the goodness in life.
Gratitude and Research
Based on numerous studies, results indicate that individuals who practice gratitude on a regular basis reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits. Studies have shown that adults who keep gratitude journals on a regular basis exercise more regularly, report fewer illness symptoms, feel better about their lives, and are more optimistic about the future.
One other study found that individuals who kept gratitude journals obtained more hours of sleep every night, slept less time awake, and had less sleep disruptions. Sleep disturbances often indicate poor overall well-being. Therefore, it is important to note that the practice of gratitude can not only improve sleep but also improve an overall sense of well-being.
In another study, three groups were asked to write in a journal once a week for ten weeks. The groups had to briefly describe in a single sentence:
(Group 1) Gratitude condition: five things they were grateful for
(Group 2) Hassles condition: five things they were displeased about
(Group 3) Events condition: five neutral events
At the end of the ten weeks, researchers learned that the individuals in the gratitude condition felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than participants in either of the other control conditions. According to the measure that the researchers used to calculate well-being, they were 25 percent happier than other participants. We know from other studies that the benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (for example, greater productivity, higher quality of work, greater occupational attainment), larger social rewards (such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (for example, a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain), and even longer life.
Gratitude and Happiness
Researchers suggest that each person has a chronic or characteristic level of happiness. According to this idea, people have happiness set-points to which they inevitably return following disruptive life events. Your genetics determine a happiness set-point to which you gravitate towards in good as well as in bad times. Some people are genetically programmed to be happy all the time, while others may be programmed for chronic unhappiness. Your genetic happiness set-point only determines 50% of your overall happiness. The other 50% are made up of outside circumstances (money, fame, family, etc.) which account for 10% of your happiness and your intentional behaviors which account for a 40% of your happiness.
Genetic set-point: 50%
Intentional activity (behavior): 40%
Most people are trying to improve their outside circumstances. They want more money, a better car, a hotter body, a more beautiful spouse, a better job, and more. Research, however, tells us that this is the wrong way to go about it. The key to happiness lies not in changing our circumstances or changing our genetic makeup (which is frankly impossible), but in changing our behavior. Focusing on your behavior (40%) makes much more sense than focusing on your circumstances (10%). It’s much easier and is 4x more powerful for increasing your levels of happiness. One such intentional activity/behavior is gratitude.
It is important to realize that one could choose to be grateful for what they have in life. One might struggle with limitations in certain areas of their life (e.g., finances, health, relationships), but one could focus on aspects that are a source of joy in their life.
What are some ways to practice gratitude or incorporate gratitude in your day-to-day life?
There are several ways in which one could learn to practice gratitude on a regular basis.
1) Keeping a gratitude journal: One could write three things they are grateful for everyday. Even though those things can overlap, it should be a repatition each day. Theprocess of repeating the same aspects each day can result in gratitude fatigue. Even though the list might seem poor or vague initially, being more grateful will hone your perception to focus on other aspects of life that you feel grateful about.
2) Remember the bad: Studies show that over 90% of the participants list their autobiographical memories as being pleasant. To be grateful about the current circumstances, it is important to remember the “bad” or the adversities that one has faced and overcome
3) Asking three questions: What have I received from? What have I given to? What troubles and difficulties have I caused? One should acknowledge and recognize the gifts they have received from others, the gifts they have given to others, and the pain that they have caused in others’ lives through their thoughts, words, and actions.
4) Learn Prayers of Gratitude: Most religions emphasize the importance of gratitude; therefore, incorporating prayer can assist with honing the practice of gratitude. Even if someone is spiritual or not religious, they could come up with their own prayer to promote this practice.
5) Come to your sense: By focusing on and engaging in the experience that our senses allow us to have, we could start appreciating what a miracle life is. Breathing is one such way. Enjoying the breeze on a fall morning is just another.
6) Visual reminders: One could use visual reminders, positive plaques on walls, phone apps, or even accountability partners to remind us to practice gratitude.
7) Make a vow to practice gratitude: There is some research that indicates that swearing a vow to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed.
8) Watch your language: Our language influences our thoughts; therefore, it is important to incorporate a linguistic style that encourages the use of words such as gifts, givers, blessing, blessed, thank you, fortunate, abundance etc.
9) Go through the motions- If we continue going through the motions of being grateful, gratitude will continue to be easily triggered. E.g.: writing letters of gratitude, saying thank you etc.
10) Think outside the box- It is important to continue looking at situations creatively to find aspects to life to be grateful about.
Free Phone Apps that can assist with the practice of Gratitude:
2) Presently: A Gratitude Journal
3) Long walks – Journal Together
I have solely relied on the book “Thanks- How the new science of gratitude can make you happier” by Dr. Robert Emmons as a guide to write this blog.