Those who argue that all the major religions teach the same thing certainly have a point when it comes to expressing gratitude. Nearly every world religion teaches gratitude as a core value. Social scientists who study what makes people and cultures healthy put just as much value on it. Maybe it’s time you learned how to express gratitude!
So, What is Gratitude?
At its simplest, it can be defined as being thankful or appreciative, but that falls somewhat short. Gratitude is stronger and lasts longer. As a photograph is to a motion picture, thankfulness is to gratitude. If you think of gratitude as an eagerness to be thankful, you’ll be in the ballpark.
Don’t feel bad if you needed that last paragraph to understand gratefulness. Western culture here in the early 21st century can be brutally ungrateful, which may be one of the reasons why the world sometimes seems so dark. Practicing gratitude is one way to bring a little light back into the world.
Benefits of Gratefulness
So, what is so fantastic about an eagerness to be thankful? Setting aside all the benefits promised by all the major religions, psychologists have empirically determined that grateful people have healthier emotional outlooks, stronger social bonds and better general health.
Social scientists are still rooting through the human psyche trying to pin down the reasons for these positive benefits, but the leading suspect to-date is the fact that we are social creatures, and gratitude fosters prosocial (as opposed to anti-social) behavior. Think about it—everyone likes to feel appreciated.
Roots of Gratefulness
Gratitude begins with recognizing that others have made contributions to our lives. We started out totally dependent on others, and most of us will end up totally dependent on others. All of us also get some help in between.
Psychologist Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis said that gratitude is “the truest approach to life. We did not birth ourselves. Life is about giving, receiving and repaying.” The seed of gratitude comes from accepting that the “self-made” person is a myth.
Interested in Learning How To Express Gratitude?
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude is easier than losing weight, but it requires some of the same skills. However, there is a self-sustaining quality to gratitude that keeps momentum building throughout the exercise. In other words, there are no plateaus!
Those who want to learn how to express gratitude as a way to make friends more easily or live a happier life may find the journey worth more than the destination. Being grateful can become an end in and of itself, regardless of the knock-on benefits.
How to Express Gratitude
There are a few simple steps that can improve your outlook and help you learn to be grateful for the little things. Purposefully appreciating, journaling, including others, and just plain practicing are easy and effective ways to increase your quality of life.
Think about the little things
A grateful approach to life begins with just appreciating the good things that happen every day. Granted, this is easier on some days than others, but the simple fact is that every day includes some event or circumstance that gives us an opportunity to practice gratitude.
And don’t think that you are doing this wrong if you start with something that strikes you as trite or petty, such as “I’m not lying in bed paralyzed or dying” or “it cheered me up to pet that puppy!” Remember, you are getting the ball rolling, and even the smallest movement gets you started.
Write it down
Some psychologists recommend journaling as a powerful gratitude builder. The act of writing something down adds to the strength of its permanence—it adds a deeper level of involvement with the emotion you are fostering.
A journal may be a useful reminder on days when circumstances conspire against you and it is a greater challenge to find opportunities for gratitude. Journaling also may illuminate how much more grateful you become over the course of the exercise.
Keep in mind that, at its core, gratefulness involves focusing on others. This means that thanking another person is a powerful way to foster gratitude. A simple “thank you” when you receive an act of kindness is a very basic way to reach out to someone.
However, in the same way that journaling is better than just thinking, writing is better than just speaking. Sending a note or a card increases the momentum of gratefulness, tends to have more lasting effects, and is facilitated by online resources and social media! Try sending a printable card to show someone your appreciation for them.
Keep it growing
Psychologists have found that those who practice simple acts of gratitude like these experience gratitude more often, feel it more deeply, and express it more ardently. They became more grateful, which makes expressions of appreciation more sincere and frequent.
It seems almost impossible that the key to healthier relationships, personalities and bodies could be something this simple, especially since it becomes self-perpetuating, but that is exactly what happens.
Given the ease and benefits of achieving an attitude of gratitude, why not go for it? The world will be very grateful if you decide to learn how to express gratitude—and so will you.