Ever remember complaining as a kid when your friend had the latest bike and yours was the poor relation – that familiar phrase from Mum and Dad ringing in your ear…. ”you should be grateful for what you’ve got!” Wise words indeed but not always the ones we wanted to hear. A trivial example I know, but really, what is gratitude about and is there merit in having a mindset of gratitude?
What’s in a word
It seems they’ve been doing it for a while, apparently the original word comes from the Latin ‘gratus’ but I love the medieval Latin translation of ‘gratitudo’ – has a bit of a ring to it don’t you think? The Cambridge English Dictionary describes the word as ‘a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something’. There’s been a lot of research done on the subject and it turns out that by adopting this outlook, it can lead to significant physical and mental improvements in our daily lives. If you’ll come with me, I’d like to take a look at a few of them and then look at some habits the ‘Gratitude Ninjas’ cultivate.
Gratitude improves your physical health – Yeah right!!!!
Now I like to think I’m cautiously skeptical about a lot of stuff I read – I don’t think it’s a bad stance given some garbage out there these days but a lot of studies have looked into gratitude. According to the peer reviewed academic journal Personality and Individual Differences, a study carried out in 2012 concluded that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and reported feeling healthier than others. They are more likely to take care of their health and exercise more often. In addition, when something is up, grateful people are also more likely to check in with their doctor and attend regular health check-ups. All of which is a likely contributor to further longevity and perhaps more importantly, the quality of our years on this earth.
Gratitude improves psychological health
A leading gratitude researcher, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research shows that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. In his book The Little Book of Gratitude he states, “Gratitude is fertilizer for the mind, spreading connections and improving its function in nearly every realm of experience.”
A Better Nights Sleep
Studies by A.M. Wood of the University of Manchester UK and colleagues established a strong correlation to gratitude and improved sleep quality. Other studies have found that noting down a few things we are grateful for can improve both the length and quality of our sleep. Some folks keep a gratitude journal. Personally, I keep a journal that I complete (most days!) and finish off by writing 3 things that l’ve been grateful for that day.
There’s lots more….
Many more in fact, backed by numerous scientific studies. Here are some of them: Gratitude makes people like us, it strengthens our positive emotions, it makes us more optimistic, it increases self-esteem whilst making us less self-centered. Other benefits include improved decision-making, improved productivity, deeper friendships – so its clear why so much research has gone into this simple act – it’s a big deal and has a very positive impact on our health and well being.
Six Habits of Highly Grateful People
The play on the Steven Covey title above I’m afraid I can’t take credit for! Jeremy Adam Smith is somewhat of an expert when it comes to the science behind gratitude and has written an excellent article of the same title in the online magazine “The Greater Good”. Below are the 6 habits in a condensed version but I do recommend you checkout the online original.
- Occasional thoughts about death and loss.
Apparently, considering endings does make you more grateful for life, specifically your own. Several studies have been conducted where participants have been asked to visualize their own deaths and their gratitude levels measurably increased. Similarly, people envisioning the sudden disappearance of their romantic partners from their lives, they became more grateful towards them. Interestingly the same is true for imagining some positive event, like a job promotion that never happened.
- They take time to smell the coffee.
Taking the time to smell the bread baking in the oven, the essence of new car interior, whatever they find pleasurable. Psychologist Fred Bryant finds that savoring positive experiences makes them stickier in the brain and increases their benefits to your psyche. The key to it, he says, is expressing gratitude for the experience.
- They take the good things as gifts, not birthrights.
The opposite of gratitude? Entitlement – the notion that people owe you just because you’re so very special. Expert Robert Emmons argues that the antidote to entitlement, is to note that we did not create ourselves – at some level we were created. Whether we consider by evolution, by God or by our parents is not important but the fact that we are never truly self-sufficient. Humans need other people for food, to heal our injuries, for love. Emmons goes on to say that “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed”.
- They’re grateful to people, not just things.
It’s great to look around and appreciate the beauty of nature, the bright sunlight on a warm Summers day or the rolling green grassy hills of the countryside – but the sunshine or the grass don’t care whether we appreciate them or not. Not so for people – people glow in gratitude according to J A Smith. Saying thanks to a family member of friend can strengthen the emotional bond. He goes on to say that thanking the guy who makes our coffee can strengthen social bonds—in part by deepening our understanding of how we’re interconnected with other people.
- They mention the brownies.
Grateful people are habitually specific. They wouldn’t say, “I love you just for being you!” A highly effective grateful person would say: “I love you for the brownies you make when you see I’m hungry and how you give me a hug when I’m feeling down even though you may not be feeling great yourself!” Smith asserts that this makes the expression of gratitude feel more authentic, showing the thanker was genuinely paying attention. Gratitude thrives on specificity.
- Finally – They thank outside the box.
That’s the easy bit, but the final one is a little more of a challenge. According to Smith the really tough-minded grateful person thanks: the girlfriend who dumped him, the homeless person who asked for change, the boss who laid him off. He says that in such moments, gratitude becomes a critical cognitive process – a way of thinking about the world that can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone. So, we can thank that girlfriend for being brave enough end a relationship that wasn’t working; the homeless person for reminding us of our advantages and vulnerability; the boss, for forcing us to face new challenges. Phew!!!
To quote Smith in his summing up: “…telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity.”
What is gratitude about – final thoughts
There is so much out there that’s wrong with our world, suffering and pain, wars, famine, natural disasters…. the list goes on. We should never forget this and do whatever we can where we are on our own personal journey through life. And maybe, when we reflect on what’s not right with the world, including our own personal struggles we could give thanks for what we do have and turn some of those negatives into positives.
I’d like to wrap up with this Robin S. Sharma Quote: “What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”
A little gratitude wouldn’t be a bad place to start would it?
I’d love to hear what you think about this subject, thank you for taking the time out to read this article and please leave a comment below.