“The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.” ~ William Penn
Gratitude has been scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system, to make us happier, to improve self esteem, and to help people feel less lonely. Even though science has only just recently caught up, Buddhists have known it for years.
We all have a tendency to want what we don’t have, and to think about the negatives in our life rather than focusing on what we do have and what’s going well.
According to research, the human brain has a negativity bias which means we need to have a high ratio of positive thoughts to outweigh it. Have you noticed this when one person gives you negative feedback – you think about it all of the time but when people praise you, you hardly acknowledge it?
Living your life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on what you appreciate and the positives in your life.
It helps to approach difficult situations from a different perspective. Appreciation calms us and helps to relax our overly active minds by connecting us with the ordinary things, big and small, that we might otherwise take for granted, so that we can think more clearly.
Research has shown that gratitude reduces envy, frustration and regret and can effectively increase happiness, reduce depression and contribute to building mental resilience. There is also evidence that it can play a major role in overcoming a trauma.
There are so many little things in life to be grateful for, but we should also include being thankful for what’s inside of us. Feeling grateful for our unique talents and strengths – it might be making someone laugh, being a good listener or even making it out of bed and getting through the day.
Offering our appreciation to one another is also a powerful tool for gratitude and can strengthen and repair emotional bonds. A study found that new opportunities are more likely to arise when we thank people, hold the door open for someone or send a thank you note to a colleague to acknowledge contributions.
Keeping your focus on the positive will really make a difference. Here are ways to add gratitude into our daily lives:
1. Keep a gratitude journal – Write down 10 things that you are grateful for each day.
Gratitude journaling, can lower stress levels, help you feel calmer, give you a new perspective on life, help to focus on what really matters and to become more self-aware. You can also write without judgement from others and read back your gratitude thoughts when you are feeling low. Research shows that just 15 minutes of writing down a few grateful sentiments before bed helps you to sleep for longer.
2. Share the love with your family and friends – Tell others that you are grateful of them.
Make more of an effort to show your appreciation towards friends, family and colleagues. Let them know how grateful you are and express how they have helped you – it could be after a phone call, helping around the house or for inviting you round. Little comments could really make a difference to your and their day.
3. Replace complaints with gratitude – be thankful for what you have.
When you find yourself thinking about what you are lacking in life or things that have gone wrong, replace those thoughts with what you have already achieved and have in your life.
Emmons R. (2003) Gratitude and Wellbeing. Available at: https://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/gratitude-and-well-being/
Kashdan TB, Uswatte G, Julian T (2006) Gratitude and eudaimonic wellbeing in Vietnam War Vetrans. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16389060
Smookler E. (2018). What does it mean to be grateful. Available at: https://www.mindful.org/what-does-it-mean-to-be-grateful/
Tiffany A. et al (1998). Negative Information Weighs More Heavily on the Brain: The Negativity Bias in Evaluative Categorizations. Available at: http://www.wisebrain.org/media/Papers/NegativeBiasInEaluativeCategories.pdf
Wood AM, et al. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19073292