“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy
‘Tis the season to be grateful. After all, the dictionary defines the word Thanksgiving as “the expression of gratitude.”
Gratitude refers to feeling thankfulness and appreciation for people, places and events. An attitude of gratitude can really change your life. As Willie Nelson once said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
In addition to “feeling good,” there are numerous benefits of gratitude, including:
• Greater appraisal of overall life happiness, improved physical health, improved mood and better coping behaviors.
• Boosting feelings of happiness and romance in relationships.
• Improved grades for kids and teens.
• Improved quality of sleep.
• A stronger, healthier heart.
• Healthier immune system.
• Protect against stress and depression.
What’s more, Chicago-based certified financial planner Ellen Rogin emphasizes gratitude as a strong part of building wealth and abundance for her clients.
Boost your attitude of gratitude
Not feeling very thankful? Here are seven tips to help you boost your gratitude. (Bonus: Most of these take little time and no money!) Make a point to try any one (or more) of these today to improve your attitude of gratitude:
1. Say thank you more frequently. Thank everyone around you, from the people who serve you or those who simply exist in your life. No need to wait until someone does something huge for you. Just the mere fact that your spouse or friend is in your life can warrant a “thank you.”
More than just saying it, it is also important that you really feel it. As award-winning author of When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, Mary O’Donohue, points out:
We focus so much on saying “thank you,” in our society (especially with children) that sometimes we don’t make the connection between the words and the genuine, heartfelt gratitude they should convey. Thanksgiving is a wonderful reminder for all of us to take some time to thank the people in our lives, just as you mention, for all those intangible gifts they give us every day — gifts of compassion, friendship, laughter, support, and love. So much to be thankful for!
Make sure when you do thank someone you also experience the sense of appreciation for them.
2. Be present. Many of us are well versed at juggling dozens of different thoughts in our heads at once. It is tough to feel true gratitude when your attention is divided. Take the time to really focus on the person you are with or event that is happening in the moment. Stop, even if just for a moment, to concentrate on how much you appreciate a sunny day, the food you are eating or the person sitting next to you.
3. Write a letter of thanks. Identify someone who has impacted your life. Perhaps it is an elementary school teacher, an old friend or a family member. Write that individual a letter explaining why they are so important to you, what you have learned from them and how they have affected your life. This is not the time to be reserved; really share your heart in the letter. Simply the act of conceptualizing and writing this letter can boost your feelings of gratitude.
For an even more powerful exercise, share the letter with the person to whom you wrote. It is optimal to visit the individual in person (perhaps over the holidays) and read the letter to them. If this person is no longer alive, try reading your letter out loud to someone else who knew and appreciated the individual.
Will this feel awkward? It may, but that’s OK. As a society, we are not used to such intimate expressions of gratitude. However, research shows that, not only is this one of the most powerful ways to boost gratitude, but also the act if doing do is a huge benefit to the reader and the benefactor.
4. Schedule “gratitude moments.” We all get so busy with life that even our best intentions do not always come to fruition. To help incorporate more gratitude into your day life, schedule at least a few minutes each day to focus on gratitude.
For some people, doing this first thing in the morning is optimal because it starts their day on a positive note and helps them bring gratitude into rest of their day. At the end of the day before bed can also be a terrific time to focus on what you appreciated about your day. It is a nice way to review what happened and go to bed on a positive note and can even help you get a better night of sleep.
Another option is to actually schedule gratitude time, as if it were an appointment. One of my executive coaching clients has gratitude time scheduled twice each day. A reminder comes up on his smart phone, and he quickly thinks of three things he is grateful for right then. It takes almost no time, which is good because he is so busy, but really makes a difference. He once told me, “that reminder helps me shift from feeling stressed to feeling grateful. I find that I am actually happier and more productive as a result of thee quick gratitude breaks.”
5. Have a “happy” meal. I’m not talking about the kind of happy meal that comes with French fries and a plastic toy, but rather the kind that offers the gift of gratitude. Sit down with family and/or friends for a “happy” meal. Take turns talking about each person and what you appreciate about them. Offer specific examples, such as, “I really appreciate that you took the time to call me after my big presentation, even though you were busy with your work.” We are often so good at pointing out what we wish someone else would do differently, that this mind shift helps you and those around you feel more connected and loved.
6. Avoid complaining or passing judgment for an entire day. When we judge and criticize others (and even ourselves), we cannot truly experience gratitude. Being nonjudgmental can be difficult for most people, as we often think in judgmental ways without realizing it. Take control of your thoughts and notice the benefits to you and those around you. Once you have become proficient at this, challenge yourself with the 21-day gratitude challenge: No judgment, gossip or criticizing for 21 days!
7. Start a gratitude journal. Write out at least three differs things each day that you appreciate. Don’t feel like the things you write in your journal need to be big or life changing. Even being grateful for something seemingly simple or small, like the sun shining, counts too!
If you are struggling with someone or something in your life, make sure that at least one of your three daily journal entries is related to that person or situation. For example, when I am working with couples who are experiencing marital strain, I ask them to write out at least one thing they appreciate about their spouse every day. This cannot be a backhanded compliment, such as, “he wasn’t that lazy today,” but rather something that is genuinely appreciated.
It can also be helpful to write about yourself. Most of us are better at identifying things we don’t like about ourselves or things we should do better, rather than the good things. This leaves us with low self-esteem and greater stress. Challenge yourself to identify at least one thing you appreciate in yourself, each day. This is not being egocentric; it is being kind to yourself. That kindness will not only be a benefit to you, but also those around you. After all, the happier you are, the more likely people in your life will be happier, too.
By: Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo