How to be more grateful, and why is gratitude important? | ChrisAkinsdotCom

Every year in America we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that began when the colonists gave thanks for the blessing of a good harvest that would enable them to survive the coming winter. Giving thanks in Autumn and the beginning of Winter is not a uniquely American past time. Thousands of years ago ancient civilizations around the globe celebrated successful harvests. They gave thanks to the spirits and the gods for providing the bounty that would ensure their survival. While these community celebrations of giving thanks are an important part of building community, and strengthening relationships, the act of giving thanks for the bounties we receive on a personal level can have profound effects on our personal lives, and on the lives of those around us.

The benefits of being grateful are well established in positive psychology research. The research suggests that people who express gratitude in their daily lives have better physical and psychological health. They are happier, more satisfied with their lives, more resilient to life’s challenges, less materialistic, and have overall positive moods. And this is just the start. Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of gratitude, and how to bring more of it into our lives.

Most of us have an innate understanding of what it means to be grateful. When we are grateful, we feel thankful or appreciative. We acknowledge that there are good things in the world and within ourselves. We affirm the good things that happen to us and around us. When we are grateful, we are also aware that the sources of these good things come from outside of us. We recognize the people around us that contribute to our good fortune. Some may also recognize the assistance of a higher power to help us achieve health, success, and happiness.

Gratitude is a social emotion. David Harned, retired professor of religious studies, describes gratitude as “an attitude toward the giver, and an attitude toward the gift…”. Immanuel Kant, a philosopher during the Age of Enlightenment, describes gratitude as “honoring a person because of a kindness he has done us.” The Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown describes gratitude as “that delightful emotion of love to him who has conferred a kindness on us…”. Robert Emmons, a leader in gratitude research, notes that gratitude is at its core a “pleasant feelings about benefit received.” Gratitude cannot be an expression of quid quo pro. Instead, the grateful person recognizes that he or she did nothing to merit the gifts received. They were given out of kindness alone.

Robert Emmons suggests a social component to gratitude. He writes, “I see it [gratitude] as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” The feeling and expression of gratitude strengthens social bonds. When we benefit from the aid of others, we tend to want to repay that kindness or pay it forward.

There are many ways to express gratitude. Perhaps the easiest is be kind and respectful to others to others. Say thank you to others for their influence on your life, no matter how small that might be. A kind word to a stranger is also a form of expressing gratitude as it uplifts you and them. Your kind word may help another overcome sadness, loneliness, or a difficult time. Or it may just help to improve their mood and bring more positivity into their lives. Being kind is often a way of paying it forward, which strengthens your own sense of gratefulness.

Be aware of the goodness around you. Take the time to notice the positives in your life and in the world. In doing so you will profoundly affect your own attitudes and mental well-being, as well as those around you. As mentioned above, gratitude can strengthen social bonds. When expressed openly it may even improve your overall environment.

Do good deeds. Go out of your way to help others or to make your community a better place. Volunteering is a great way to show your gratitude. Helping another who may be in need is showing respect for that person’s humanity. Whether you are reciprocating a kind act or doing a good deed for somebody else only because they need it, helping others is not only a fantastic way of expressing your gratitude, it also fosters community and builds relationships.

Focus on the positive and don’t complain about thinks that you cannot control. When you focus on the things that are going well and that you are grateful for you will experience the world in a very different way than you will if you are focused on the negative. When you keep focus on the positive, the things you are grateful for, you develop thought habits that improve your ability to manage adversity and solve problems creatively. This is not to say that sometimes things do not go well. However, keeping a positive focus will keep you from getting lost in the chaos of adversity, and help you create a better reality.

Keeping a gratitude journal may have a significant impact on your life. Research shows that those who write down what they are grateful for each day show tremendous growth in physical, psychological, and social aspects of their lives. (For more information, please check out Dr. Emmons’ post, “ Why Gratitude is Good “).

Meditation and prayer are also fantastic ways to cultivate gratitude in your life. Both are ways to inwardly reflect and make sense of experiences. By exploring your inner experiences, you may foster understanding and develop thought habits that focus on the good. You may recognize your own inner power to control your experiences, and foster faith in your higher power to help you through times of crisis.

Regularly stop, take a few breaths, and think about something you are grateful for in the moment. Set a timer, use an app on your phone or watch, or use visual cues that remind you to sit back and think about the things you are grateful for. This practice may take on 10 to 15 seconds, but when done many times each day it can have a profound impact on your happiness and sense of well-being.

Act like you are grateful, even when you don’t feel like it. Science tells us that our emotions are influenced by our thoughts, behaviors, and the way our bodies feel. Gratitude is a social emotion, so acting and thinking in ways that reflect gratitude will generate feelings of being grateful. So smile, think about the things that make you happy (e.g., that you are grateful for), be kind and respectful to those around you, say thank you, write your gratitude journal, etc. whether you feel like it in the moment or not, and you will evoke gratitude in yourself.

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Hi. I'm a psychologist, father. I write articles about healthy living and improving wellness in body, mind, and spirit. I hope you find my posts helpful.