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How to Develop the Habit of Gratitude to Be Happier
Are you a grateful person?
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a leading expert on gratitude, describes gratitude in two parts. Firstly, he says gratitude is an affirmation that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. Secondly, it’s the recognition that the sources of this goodness are, at least partially, outside ourselves. This outside sources can be a higher power, the natural world or from social connections with others.
In a world where more people today feel increasingly entitled and privileged, practicing gratitude for the familiar, everyday things couldn’t be more urgent, grounding, and beneficial for your well-being. It may be that some people are naturally more grateful than others, but expressing gratitude is a skill anyone can learn, and do more of.
David Steindl-Rast, a practicing Benedictine monk, observes that,
“In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
The individual impact of any one piece of gratitude may be small, but the cumulative effect is huge. That’s why it’s vital to develop the habit of gratitude and strengthen your gratitude muscles.
Pay more attention to life and the people around you
To develop and strengthen your gratitude muscle, pay more attention to life and the people around you. It’s hard to be grateful for that which you do not notice. Start by keeping a gratitude journal. Buy a blank paper journal and write down five things you are grateful for before you go to bed. It’s okay to start with the obvious or most basic things at first.
Once you’ve started the habit of keeping a gratitude journal, get even more out of it by writing specifics—the more specific or detailed your journal entry, the better. A University of Southern California study found that writing five sentences about one thing you’re grateful for is more effective than writing one sentence about five things you’re grateful for.
Share your joy
Moreover, don’t hoard gratitude. Gratitude works better when it is shared. Tell at least one person every day what you appreciate about them and thank someone for a job or task well done daily. Again, it’s best to be specific than general when expressing your gratitude. For instance, instead of saying to a friend “Thanks for being there for me,” tell them “I appreciate what good company you are. You are such a good listener. I always feel better after hanging out with you.”
Here’re more benefits you can expect when you develop the habit of gratitude in your life.
1. You’ll feel happier, alert and more energetic.
According Dr. Emmons, one way gratitude works is by reducing underlying negative emotions, such as envy, regret, frustration, and resentment. You feel lighter, alert, more energetic, happy, and excited than those who are always grumpy and ungrateful. Even if you are already reasonably happy, gratitude can lift your mood and make you happier, particularly if you struggle with depression. Psychologists have actually found the more grateful you are, the less likely you are to experience depression.
2. You’ll be able to appreciate what you have more.
Many people often say, “I’ll be happy when I get this done, or when she or he says they love me.” But it doesn’t work that way. Unless you are grateful from the start, even if you get those things you will soon feel unsatisfied and always reach for something new in the hopes it will make you happier. However, when you’re grateful it shifts your mind to what you have instead of what you lack. You stop thinking that you can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met, and start feeling more warmth, love, contentment and joy in your heart for little blessings.
3. You’ll be less self-centered and narcissistic.
We are all self-centered and narcissistic to some degree, but those who regularly express gratitude are better able to manage these potentially negative traits. That’s because grateful people are also kind and considerate of others—friends, foes, strangers, and even themselves. It takes courage to be kind and considerate. And, when you are kind and considerate, you are more empathetic, compassionate and less likely to be envious, materialistic and aggressive.
4. You’ll improve your relationships.
Gratitude is immensely helpful in any relationship—romantic or otherwise—because if you’re grateful, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you act out of a sense of security and not out of a sense of angst or contention. Some experts actually say gratitude is the glue that holds couples together. Research has also found that people exhibit enhanced brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) when they practice gratitude. These are areas of the brain linked to enhanced emotional processing, moral judgment, interpersonal bonding, and the ability to understand the mental states of others.
5. You’ll make your kids happier.
Gratitude tells people that we not only appreciate them, but also admire and respect them. When these feelings are communicated to our kids, the kids learn to be grateful too and not focus too much on extrinsic goals, such as money, status and image. According to a study led by Jeffrey Froh, co-author of Making Grateful Kids, those extrinsic goals are empty and do not fulfill psychological needs. They actually contribute to depression in kids. However, when kids focus on gratitude they become happier, and when the kids are happy guess who else is happy—you are! Your joy is complete when the kids are happy and contented.
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