We all have that one colleague who is always happy. Annoying isn’t it? That’s what I used to think when I was working at my most soul-draining job. My co-worker would always try to make me look on the bright side, and at the time, there was no bright side. I would secretly wish to be as happy as her and always wondered what was keeping her spirits lifted.
Spoiler alert: It was not alcohol. It was the practice of gratitude.
Engaging in gratitude improves our spirits. Research shows that practising gratitude has reported an increase in better mental health in only four weeks.
I first began studying gratitude when I was recovering from cancer treatment. My identity was lost, it was wrapped up in my career, and I felt unhappy and hopeless after a large financial loss. I googled, “What will make me happy?”. While sorting through all the articles with numerous promises of happiness invoking activities, gratitude continued to surface. What was it about gratitude that made it appealing?
I discovered that gratitude is an easy activity with relatively quick results.
Robert Emmons states that gratitude is an affirmation of goodness and recognition that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. Gratitude encourages us to pay our gratitude forward as well as appreciate what we have received.
For example, we may be grateful for the ability to feed our family (affirmation of goodness). We can be grateful for the opportunity to make money and grateful for the farmers who provide the food (external sources). We can pay it forward by supporting our local food bank (repaid gratitude).
Practising gratitude provides many benefits. It fosters a positive attitude, builds relationships, improves your health, and lessens toxic or negative emotions.
People who are more grateful than others will automatically begin to think that things happen to them in a more positive way. This positive interpretation bias will make us look for the good in any situation.
Picking out the negatives in our day comes naturally. Our minds are focused on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. It’s an innate survival instinct. By practising some gratitude strategies regularly, you can cultivate gratitude and its benefits. Don’t worry if you are someone who has a hard time finding the good side, I’ll give you some ways of practising gratitude.
- Gratitude journaling has fast become a popular activity. Start with setting aside time at the end of your day to remember and reflect on events, people or simple things that come to mind. Make this a daily or weekly practise.
- Check in with how much you use gratitude-based language. Choosing your words carefully by focusing on how good things are in your life. Even in the worst of times, find something to be positive about. Grateful people have a way of using the words abundance, blessed, fortunate which focus on the inherently good things that others have done for you. Emotions of gratitude are also triggered when you smile, say thank you, and express your appreciation towards someone.
- Random acts of kindness are alike to paying gratitude forward. Gratitude motivates us to return the goodness we have received. Acts of kindness as simple as writing someone a note of thanks for something they have done or dropping off flowers from your garden to a friend going through a rough patch does as much to increase your gratitude as it does to the recipient. As I went through my rough patch my awesome support system did many good deeds for me. It wasn’t until I stopped to appreciate those good deeds, did I begin to feel gratitude. I dug a little deeper in meaning and started to really feel the effect.
Gratitude is a reciprocal emotion that can have a ripple effect within ourselves and others. As you practise gratitude you not only lift your spirits but the spirits of others. After weeks of journaling, I became happier and found hope that my life would once again be good. It also reminded me that you need the hard times to appreciate the good times.
Let’s start a wave of gratitude.