The Importance of Being Grateful

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and this got me thinking about gratitude and how wonderful it feels to be thankful and appreciative, even for the small things we experience in everyday life.

And it turns out there is a growing body of research which shows there are many psychological benefits to being grateful, including feeling happier and lowering stress, depression and anxiety.

And of course feeling good about helping others feel good too!

Not only that, there is also scientific evidence that expressing genuine gratitude on a daily basis can improve physical health as well by improving quality of sleep, cardiovascular (heart) health and immune function.

Imagine that … something as simple as how we think about our lives and the people in them actually has a profound impact on our health!

So clearly a spirit of gratitude and appreciation is an essential skill for everyone – young and old – to foster and develop!

Gratitude promotes optimism and helps us to develop a more positive outlook. It lets us pause for a moment to reflect on something we have in our life right now instead of always striving for more … the next goal, the new dress, the new toy, the new car, or the house renovation …

Gratitude is simply cultivating a genuine appreciation for what we already have.

And we have a lot! I’m sure you’ll agree that most of us actually have far more material “things” than we really need…

In his classic book, How to win friends and influence people wrote, Dale Carnegie wrote about the value of smiling at people and helping others to feel important and valued. He suggested that you should show people how much you appreciate them and be grateful for what they do and for the contributions they make.

Let’s face it, smiling is such a simple way of expressing to someone in the street that you value and acknowledge their presence as a fellow traveller.

(It always amazes me when you smile at someone who knows you as an acquaintance and yet they look away and pretend not to recognise you … simply so they can avoid having to make the effort to smile back at you! My suggestion is to smile anyway as it feels fabulous and most people like it too!)

It’s interesting to note that the ancient religions and traditions all have some way of expressing gratitude, appreciation and respect for others. For example, in yoga there is the Hindu gesture and statement of “Namaste” which acknowledges the divine spark of greatness within each of us and expresses gratitude for its presence in both people.

In his book The Gratitude Effect Dr. John Demartini outlined how important gratitude is in everyday life and also how it can transform any personal or business relationship for the better. He has some interesting ideas about how we can be grateful in everyday life and one of his quotes that I love is this:

“Wisdom is the instantaneous recognition that crisis is a blessing.”

In fact, the book was so successful that he now runs training courses and groups to help people learn how to deal with negative experiences and emotions and to see the positives and the blessings in the situation in order to reform and develop a greater understanding of themselves.

Even in the midst of crisis and change there are lessons to learn and things to be grateful for!

So what am I grateful for right now in my own life? 

  • Having a positive work environment with clients I value and feel empowered to help
  • Being able to sit here and write this blog while I look out to Port Phillip Bay. Yes, I love my office!
  • Having three awesome psychologists working with me on a daily basis
  • Positive interpersonal relationships with friends and family
  • Having the freedom to choose my direction in life
  • The sunset each night
  • The beauty of a rose
  • …but mostly for my son Charlie – he is such a wonderful blessing!

Take the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge!

I encourage you to give the following exercises a try for 30 days and see what effect it has on your own life:

  1. Write down three things each day for which you are thankful. These should be specific, not general. For example, “I am grateful for the way my toddler likes to hug me”. (Rather than, “I am thankful for my kids” … or my job or my house, etc.)
  2. Write down one thing each day you could do to improve your life. Something small is fine. For example, “I am going to clean the windows so they are crystal clear and I can enjoy the view better.” (You don’t have to do the things you write down.)
  3. Once per week for 10 minutes write about your ideal life in detail. Write as if it is already happening and real, not just wishful or hopeful. For example, “I am enjoying a walk along a beautiful tropical beach with clear white sand on a balmy evening with palm trees gently swaying in the light breeze”, not “I wish I could…”). Stop after 10 mins even if unfinished and pick it up next week or write on another aspect of your ideal life.

The key with the first exercise is to express genuine gratitude and appreciation for specific things you already have in your life and not to think like a victim who ‘deserves’ more or who wishes they had more of something.

And the positive effect is multiplied when you share the gratitude with others – especially family – but also friends, colleagues, clients and others.

You can take this gratitude quiz before and after the 30 day challenge to see how much you’ve improved.

Why not give the 30 day gratitude challenge a try and see what happens? 🙂

Some further reading:

  • Robert Emmons – research psychologist, gratitude expert and author of several books.
  • Rick Hanson – neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness.

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