Gratitude (grat-i-tood), noun: the quality of being warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankfulness.
Gratitude is the most powerful of all the positive emotions, forming a solid foundation for experiencing more happiness, optimism, hope, and joy. Practiced regularly, gratitude shapes your worldview toward noticing abundance versus scarcity, since it focuses on what you Have versus what you Lack. When you speak with others about what you are grateful for, you bring positive energy to that conversation. Grateful people make better friends, parents, coworkers, and leaders. Finally, when you practice gratitude, you will feel more content with the world, no matter what your current state (even unemployed!).
Think it, Feel it, Do it.
If you want to learn the piano, you must practice, practice, practice. The same is true of emotional states. To tap the power of thankfulness, create an intentional practice of Gratitude. What would that look like for you? Some conditions to consider:
- Daily. Make it something you do at least 5x/week to hone your skill and awareness.
- Portable. Create a practice you can take with you when you travel.
- Measurable. It should be specific enough that you can say, “yes I did it today” or not.
- Consistent. While you can vary the ways you strengthen your gratitude muscle, try to have one or two core practices you do regularly.
- Possible. Keep your practice small enough that it can always fit into your life.
Ten Gratitude Activities
Some are simple, some complex; some are high-tech, low-tech, visual, verbal, or physical. There is no ‘perfect’ practice, so create one that works for you. Here are practices used by others (or me) that I know have worked.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. This is the most basic and powerful practice in all of Positive Psychology. There has not been a single text on happiness published in the past decade that does not mention this exercise. Every day, write down three blessings from the past 24 hours. Pencil and paper or online journal work equally well.
- Offer a Prayer of Thanks. Robert Emmons, in his 2007 book, “thanks!” says that 70% of people surveyed (all religions combined) pray daily. Those who say ‘thank you’ more often than ‘please give me….’ experience higher life satisfaction.
- Write a Note/Email. Every day, let a person in your life know you are grateful for them, and why. Even if you only honor workdays, in a year you’ll have sent 250 notes.
- Post one gratitude Tweet each day. There’s even a community of thankfulness on Twitter – use hashmark #thankfulfor.
- Share With Your Partner. As you get ready for bed each night, share one thing you appreciate about your partner.
- Create 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. Pull the list out and read it whenever you feel down, sad, or ungrateful, for a quick pick-me-up.
- Say a Gratitude Mantra. One person I know stands in front of her full-length mirror each day and says, out loud, “Happy am I. Healthy and strong am I. Grateful am I. Holy am I.”
- Three Square Meals. A good friend prays before every meal and says three things he is grateful for since the list meal (and he is the most grateful person I know!)
- Create a Body of Gratitude. This is one of mine. With feet flat on the ground, I pull my shoulders back and my head up, open my palms toward the person I am facing, and take a deep breath. Every time I answer a ringing phone, I take two seconds to shift into this body and imagine my heart opening as I breathe in and say, “good day!”
- Keep 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 gratefulness wash over you.
Deepen Your Practice: Notice the Basics
I recently led a diversity program for a high-school junior class, and used “The World as 100 People” info (see http://miniature-earth.com/ for an eye-opening look at human statistics). I was reminded that as a middle class American I am incredibly blessed. I have a roof over my head, I have access to clean water and sanitation (43% of humans do not have that basic need met), I have an advanced education (a rare privilege in most of the world), and I have food on my table every day (not true for 37 out of every 100 people, including many in America).
When was the last time you broke bread and gave thanks for the fact that when you turn the faucet, clear water emerges? Or that your lights go on when you flip the switch? Or that you are able to live without fear of being kidnapped in your own home?
What About Your Challenges?
You probably don’t spend much time giving thanks for difficult co-workers, tough teachers, your failures, or past suffering. Yet everything in your life that stretched you into the ‘dark side’ can help you feel grateful today. When you’ve survived tough times, you have a starker contrast against which to rate your good times, plus you know you have the strength to survive.
For example, when my youngest brother died of leukemia, I emerged from a terrible experience with a much deeper appreciation for life. While ‘Gene’ was my boss, I assessed I was living Hell On Earth; yet I’ve found it easier to appreciate every subsequent boss or client, knowing that – no matter how awful – they aren’t as evil as Gene (truly)!
In what ways might you be grateful to your hardships and challenges? How have they supported your growth or learning? How have your past bad times helped you appreciate today?
“Everything that happens to us has a blessing built into it.” ~Dr. Wayne Dyer
Do This For Yourself (and Your Family)
The next time your family and/or friends are gathered at table, invite them into the spirit of Giving Thanks with one of the following:
Easy – Say One Thing
Before dinner, ask each person at the table to say out loud one thing for which they are grateful. To keep it real, invite them to use the Because Test, for example: “I am grateful for _____ because ______.”
Medium – Write Ten Things
Lay a sheet of paper at each place, and invite everyone to write down ten things for which they feel grateful. Ask people to share three out loud.
Kick it up a notch: every item on the list should pass the Because Test.
Two notches up: challenge them to write down 25 items!
Difficult – Get Personal (payoff if it works: priceless)
As each person arrives, hand him or her a marker and five 3×5 index cards (have more available if needed). Before and during dinner, they will write out each card to other individuals present at dinner, expressing thanks for something they’ve done or been. Remind people to think about the ‘little stuff’ as well as the obvious. After dinner, invite everyone to go to the other person(s), read their card aloud, then hand them the card.
Tips: You do the first reading, to model it (stand next to and face the person). Hugs are optional. Have tissues ready. As host, have yours pre-written. Stretch yourself to cover the ‘less lovable’ family members, so everyone will receive at least one card. Remind all that the exercise is about GIVING thanks, and invite them to notice how good it feels to share Gratitude.
Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at theexecutivehappinesscoach.com.