Gratitude is our emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational well-being. Being grateful also impacts the overall experience of happiness, and these effects tend to be long-lasting.
New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health. Various studies have shown that what we focus on and the words we use to describe events, has an impact on our overall physical and mental health. Studies show that if you express gratitude, it raises your happiness by 25%.
Whatever we focus our mind on, ends up expanding our thoughts and feelings. When we focus on the things we lack or our failures, we operate from a position of loss and discontent. If we focus on what’s missing from our life, it creates a void that we struggle to fill. However, when you focus on abundance, we believe we have more of it, which makes us feel more contented and happy. Taking time to acknowledge our successes and achievements creates a deeper sense of fulfilment.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama says there are two ways to reach contentment:
One is to acquire everything you want and desire: an expensive house, sporty car, fashionable wardrobe, gourmet foods, perfect mate, exotic trips a perfectly toned body. The list is endless.
The problem with this approach is that this type of wanting is a bottomless pit and never leads to contentment. Sooner or later there will be something you want but can’t have, no matter how many hours you put in or how hard you work.
The second and more reliable approach to contentment is to want and feel grateful for what you already possess. When you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn’t matter whether you obtain the object of your desire or not. You are content either way.
We must be patient with ourselves, as we try begin to this practice of daily gratitude… remember that our brain is wired to be more negative than positive. It’s called the negative bias. The negativity bias is a tendency to have greater sensitivity to negative than to positive events. Psychologically speaking, negative events weigh close to three times more than positive events.
Think about cavemen who went out gathering food for their families. Those who survived did so because they were sharply attuned to attacks from sabre-toothed cats lurking in the bush. In modern times, we don't have a regular need to run from predators, yet what remains with us is an evolutionary imprint called the negativity bias.
While this bias may serve us in situations related to survival, it can cause distress in everyday encounters. There are a couple of ways that we can begin to bring the “attitude of gratitude” into our daily lives, and shift our thoughts to a more positive bias.
A gratitude diary:
The idea is to write about at least three positive experiences on a daily basis. Examples could include spending time with family, going for a lovely walk in nature, a pleasant conversation with a friend, a good cup of coffee, helping someone out or even being grateful for the house you live in.
Recording these positive experiences boosts levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy, especially when compared to those who recorded or focused on negative events.
It’s very rare that our days go to plan, but even in tough times and unexpected challenges there will be moments you can be thankful for… we just need to develop a sense of appreciation.
Make a list of the many things you’re grateful for—the people, places and things that make your life rich and full, that bring you comfort and joy. After you’ve made your list, meditate on your appreciation for each item and visualise anything you’ve taken for granted - things or people, even pets that you would miss if they weren’t in your life.
As you practice this exercise, notice that you’re more aware of how full your life already is. Acknowledge your blessings, hold them close to your heart and don’t let pettiness and the small stuff distract you from the bigger, more important aspects of your life.
So… what are you grateful for today?