Research shows that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis are happier, more resilient, compassionate & kind; they form closer connections to the people around them, have a better quality of sleep, stronger immune systems & are more easily able to express their positive emotions & keep their problems in perspective. In fact, gratitude is the strongest predictor of happiness & good mental health.
So, how do we cultivate an attitude of gratitude?
Pay attention. When you go looking through your life for things to be grateful for you’ll be amazed at what you’ll come up with. Look around you right now – I bet you could list 10 without really thinking about it.
Savour the good. An old friend of mine (a professional poet & clown – yes, what a job huh?!) once wrote one of my favourite lines of all time: ‘You are living the stories you are going to tell later’. Revel in the glorious moments of your life, soak them up as if they were your last.
Keep a journal. The simple act of writing down the things we are thankful for brings them to the forefront of our mind & helps us focus on the positive aspects of our lives. It also makes a wonderful keepsake to look back on in the years to come. There are a number of apps such as Gratitude Journal (iPhone) that you can use if you don’t want to keep a physical journal. If you really want to make technology work for you, sign up to Happify, a free app developed by the world’s leading experts on happiness that features activities & games designed to help you cultivate gratitude & have a more fulfilling life.
Find the silver lining. There is good to be found in most, if not all, situations. Approach your challenges with this in mind & you will begin to see that nothing is ever as bad as it seems. Look for the positive & the good. It may be well disguised but it is there.
Say it out loud. Say thank you. Think back to when someone gave you a heart-felt thank you. It felt good, didn’t it? The English poet John Donne wrote ‘No man is an island‘; we are all connected & rely on the kindness & selflessness of others. Make it a regular practice to tell people how much you appreciate them or their efforts (& don’ t forget to tell yourself too).
Catch yourself. Employ your mindfulness skills in both your self-talk & your interactions with others. When you hear negativity, gossip or criticism creeping in to your narrative, pull yourself up on it. Two of the the eight Noble Truths of the Buddhist traditions that govern ethical conduct are ‘right speech‘ & ‘right action‘. Speak well of people (including yourself) & treat them as you would like to be treated.
Give compliments (& learn how to accept one too!). I believe this is something most of us don’t do often enough. If you really pay attention to the world around you, you can always find someone doing truly magnificent things. Tell them. Admire their skills, talents or abilities. And when someone congratulates you or gives you positive feedback, don’t shirk it away with some self-deprecating response (like many people do), just say ‘thank you‘. If it was well intentioned, it should thus be well received.
I’ll leave you with one of my recently discovered yet favourite modern-day poets, Carrie Newcomer reciting her beautiful poem, ‘Three Gratitudes‘.
I just love her little nightly ritual, perhaps it is something we could all try…