As the American Thanksgiving holiday approaches, our thoughts turn to Giving Thanks and the emotion of Gratitude. This emotion is so foundational to the experience of all the Positive Emotions that I believe it is impossible to oversell its importance or speak of it too often.
Gratitude is defined as, the quality of being warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankfulness.
Reminders about the Importance of Gratitude
- Expressions of Gratitude are the bricks of the foundation upon which Happiness, Optimism, Hope, and Joy are built.
- Practiced regularly, Gratitude shapes your worldview toward noticing abundance versus scarcity, since it focuses on what you Have versus what you Lack.
- You bring positive energy to the conversation whenever you speak with others about something for which you are grateful.
- Grateful people make better friends, parents, coworkers, and leaders.
- Finally, when you practice gratitude, you feel more content with the world, no matter what your current state (even unemployed!).
Practice makes Better
If you want to learn the piano or run a marathon, you must practice, practice, and practice. The same is true of emotional states. Here are nine intentional activities that will help you live a more Gratitude-filled life.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal. This is the most basic and powerful practice in all of Positive Psychology. Every book on happiness published in the past eight years places this practice at/near the top of the list. Every day, write down three blessings from the past 24 hours. Pencil and paper or online journal work equally well – the key is that you write it, not just think it (it makes a difference).
2. Remember the Bad Times. In his 2007 book, “Thanks,” researcher Robert Emmons noted the value of reflecting on past difficulties — not to dwell on them, but to appreciate that you survived and are stronger today as a result of the experiences.
[This one resonates for me personally. Viewed in the rearview mirror, some of my darkest moments and biggest mistakes have come to symbolize significant turning points or deep learning that would not have been otherwise possible. In the words of Helen Keller, “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”]
3. Say, “Thank you.” Those who say ‘thank you’ more often than ‘please give me….’ experience higher life satisfaction.
4. Three Square Meals. A good friend of mine takes a moment before every meal and says three things he is grateful for since his last meal (and he is the most grateful person I know!)
5. Appreciate Someone. Every day, let a person in your life know you are grateful for them, and why. Even if you only do this weekly, in a year you’ll have sent 52 notes.
6. Build a Gratitude List. Start with a list of 25-50 things for which you are grateful. Whenever you think of something new, add it to the list (challenge yourself to reach 100!). Pull the list out and read it for a quick pick-me-up whenever you feel down, sad, or ungrateful.
7. Wear a Body of Gratitude. With feet flat on the ground, pull your shoulders back and your head up, open your palms toward the person you are facing, and take a deep breath.
8. Fill a Gratitude File. Every time you receive a thank you note, place it in your file. In email, create a folder to store these. When you are having a bad day open the file and, as you read, feel the warmth of other people’s appreciation wash over you.
9. Notice the Invisible and the Infrastructure. When was the last time you gave thanks for the fact that the lights actually go on when you flip the switch? Or that your faucet flows with clean, drinkable water? Or that you can live without fear of being assassinated in your home? Much of the world’s population still lacks these life basics, so take a moment to appreciate what may have become invisible to you.
Happy Thanksgiving. And in case you’ve not heard me say it before, my dear Readers: I am grateful for you!
The 13 Principles of Happiness offer specific practices to strengthen your “happiness muscles.” Visit https://theexecutivehappinesscoach.com/happiness/philosophies.cfm, to download a 1-page PDF Poster. Post it on your refrigerator, and have extras handy for when your guests read it on Thanksgiving and want their own copies!