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Published on April 28, 2020

What Is Gratitude and Why Is It Important?

What Is Gratitude and Why Is It Important?

On a general scale, gratitude can be thought of as a mental state of mind: you’re consciously grateful for things and people in your life. Gratitude can also be thought of as small acts of acknowledging what and for whom you’re grateful, such as calling up your best friend and telling them how much they mean to you. It’s an act of expressing your gratitude that many may resonate with.

You may have read or heard about gratitude in high volumes when it comes to positivity, health, and wellness. It has become one of the cornerstones of living a mindful life, and a tool used by many to achieve happiness, peace, and wellbeing.

This article will dive into what gratitude is, why it’s important, and how you can more concsciously implement it into your daily routine.

What is Gratitude?

According to Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on the topic, gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received”[1]. This suggests that gratitude is more than just actions; it is an intention that we speak to ourselves that affirms the good things and people in our life.

Emmons goes on to explain that gratitude is also acknowledgement that the good things in our life often come from external sources. If you happen to believe in a higher power or are of a spiritual nature, gratitude becomes an offering of thanks to whatever you choose to believe in.

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Think about something or someone you’re grateful for. In a moment of offering thanks for this thing or person to have come into your life, imagine where that “thanks” is being offered to: perhaps God, Universe, something esoteric that you believe watches over you, etc. This is what Emmons means when he’s talking about external sources: in gratitude, we’re offering our thanks for what we have in life, knowing that people and things come to us from seemingly divine places or chance.

Emmons also calls gratitude, in this context, the “relationship-strengthening emotion.” It reminds us that we’re constantly supported and loved by others, and showing gratitude for those people is affirming their support. Therefore, gratitude can also be thought of as an emotion, since it is from our emotional state that we feel gratitude and are able to express it.

Lastly, gratitude is also about “paying it forward.” Sociologist Georg Simmel calls this act “the moral memory of mankind”[2] It goes hand in hand that when we’re feeling grateful and sharing that with others, it encourages the energy of gratitude to be passed down from person to person. It inspires us to keep the loving momentum going, and thus “pay it forward” to someone else. Simmel believes that this is how gratitude has existed over the years: in strengthened bonds between people who shared their gratitude with others.

Why Is Gratitude Important?

Now that you know what gratitude is, why is it important? According to a plethora of positive psychology research, gratitude has been strongly correlated with greater happiness and joy[3]. If we subscribe to the theory that thoughts create our reality, we can easily see how this research plays out.

Think about something or someone who brings you pure joy. When you think about this person or thing, begin to notice how you feel in your body. Likely, you’ll feel a great opening sensation in your heart, or butterfly feelings of excitement in your belly.

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These physical sensations lead you into feeling grateful for this specific thing or person. In fact, you may feel lighter, more at peace, and happier. Practicing gratitude in such a way leads to more joy without a lot of effort: it’s easy to be happy when you’re grateful.

Now think about something or someone who brings you pain or sorrow. Notice how this person or thing makes you feel, even if it’s unpleasant. Do you get sensations of heaviness? Do your thoughts and feelings spiral into negativity?

Focusing on the negative brings about more negativity. One feeds the other in the same way that gratitude brings about more joy. Therefore, from a perspective of mental health, gratitude plays a huge part in how we cater to our positivity and, therefore, our happiness.

Additionally, mental health closely ties in with physical health. When we’re mentally and emotionally in a good place, our physical health follows: we have more energy, we sleep better, we make better dietary choices, we breathe easier, etc.

Likewise, when we’re deep in negativity, our mental health suffers. We’re more prone to depression and anxiety, and this causes high blood pressure, insomnia, body aches and pain, and a slew of other symptoms and diseases. Practicing gratitude is a tool by which we ensure our wholesome, optimal health.

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How to Practice Gratitude

Now that you know what gratitude is and why it’s important, it’s worth noting some ways of practicing gratitude in your daily routine. These suggestions need not be complicated or take up too much time: the simpler the better. It’s the intention that counts![4])

1. Start a Gratitude Journal

Whether you do this at night or first thing in the morning, make a list of everything you’re grateful for. Start by listing 3-5 things, and you can work your way up later if you wish. You’ll be surprised at how this can change your perspective and shift your day for the better.

2. Make a Gratitude Jar

For every moment of gratitude, write a note on a piece of paper and toss it into a jar. On New Year’s Eve, open up the notes and remind yourself of all the wonderful moments you were grateful for throughout the year.

3. Write a Letter

Take some time to write a letter to someone you’re grateful for. Handwritten letters carry so much loving energy! Not only are you sharing your gratitude with this person, but that person may be inspired to pay it forward to someone else.

Some days, you may find yourself unable to express gratitude. This may be because you’re going through a hard time or facing an unprecedented challenge. Take this moment to practice gratitude anyway. Identify the challenge you’re facing and think about what silver lining or life lesson lives in this challenge. Then, offer your gratitude for giving you wisdom, strength, and courage[5].

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Final Thoughts

Gratitude can be thought of as an emotion, a mental state of mind, or an affirmation of something or someone good in your life. Whatever way you choose to define it, is a personal choice that is meant to bring you closer to joy and happiness.

The importance of practicing gratitude, in small steps throughout your day, is a vital tool in maintaining optimal mental, physical, and emotional health. It also acts as a ripple of positivity in your relationships, social circles, and community. We can all practice gratitude and pay it forward for a better, kinder world.

More Tips on Gratitude

Featured photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson via unsplash.com

Reference

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

How to Change Your Self-Perception and Untap Your Hidden Potential

How to Change Your Self-Perception and Untap Your Hidden Potential

If your current self-perception is not serving you in ways that allow you to be your best self and achieve the goals you’re aiming for, it’s time to transform it into a force for good using personality and social psychology.

Those harsh evaluations from your inner critic speaking sourly of unworthiness have had enough airplay. You no longer want to allow features of imposter syndrome to immobilize you nor deflate any balloon of excitement and hope you had toward achieving your goals.

Your self-perception is about the relationship you have with yourself. The great news is that because you hold this self-perception, you are the best and most powerful agent capable of transforming it.

Here are 7 tips on how to change your self-perception and unleash your potential.

1. Learn to Detach From Others’ Projections

Simply cutting ties with anyone who drops negative criticism that leaves you feeling you are a lesser human being would lead to an incredibly lonely existence. What can better serve you is recognizing when someone might actually be projecting their self-image upon you.

Projections are often an unconscious way we defend ourselves to feel better emotionally and mentally about those aspects of ourselves we consider to be flawed[1]. We attribute the things we don’t like about ourselves to someone else because the pain and discomfort of confessing our own inadequacies are just too great.

Think of the friend at dinner who dominates the conversation and commonly speaks over others yet tells you you’re rude when you interrupt them. Think of the associate who claims to be a perfectionist and always struggles to meet deadlines but says your work will never be as good because you prioritize meeting targets over doing better quality work.

When you are on the receiving end of sharp, unsavory criticism, there’s a high chance that another person may be projecting. They are unwittingly showing you how they see the world.

However, this does not mean their assertions are true or valid. If anything, it’s simply a matter of opinion.

2. Recognize How Others Have Shaped Your Self-Perception

During her earlier research, Carol Dweck discovered children’s motivation and performance was highly influenced by how parents and authority figures encouraged them.

Her research offers guidance that could also influence a child’s esteem, self-efficacy, and self-perception as they grow through adolescence and into adulthood[2].

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  • Teach children how their effort can influence outcomes and their performance as opposed to labeling them according to the results they might achieve (i.e. a good artist, a genius, gifted).
  • As opposed to telling children they were good or bad, loved or not loved depending upon their behavior and results of performance, praise their efforts despite the results.
  • Make space for children’s positive and negative emotions as opposed to only being loving, affectionate, and supportive when they are well-behaved or performing to a certain level.

Dweck’s research has shone a light on likely sources of many imprisoning self-perceptions we develop as adults. As adults, we can see how and why we came to think about ourselves in the ways we do[3].

Change your self-perception with a growth mindset.

    Now, this is not a green light to unleash all blame on your parents and teachers but rather to recognize that you might be carrying the full weight of unhelpful self-perceptions you aren’t fully accounted for. You can also recognize and choose to do something about those self-perceptions that don’t benefit you.

    Ask yourself:

    “Does how I see myself make me feel better or worse about myself?”

    “Does how I see myself create obstacles between where I am, what I am feeling, where I want to be, and how I want to feel?”

    Continue to practice your awareness of how you see yourself in the present, consider how this impacts you, and start exploring how to put yourself in the greatest position of power to change this.

    3. Learn How Even Negative Self-Perceptions Serve a Purpose

    World-renowned psychotherapist Richard Schwartz coined an incredible therapeutic framework called Internal Family Systems through hearing how clients would talk about inner “parts” of themselves[4].

    Similar to how different members of our families have different roles by birthright, different personality traits, and characteristics, Schwartz proposes that we all have an internal system consisting of sub-personas or “parts” within our psyche that help form our self-perception.

    Have you ever thought that you should decide one way but another voice inside you said to do the opposite? If so, this framework can help you not only tame the unhelpful voices and self-perceptions but also discover others that can help you untap your hidden potential.

    Schwartz coined three main types of sub-personas:

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    • Exiles are those who often hold the emotional pain from abandonment, rejection, being exploited, and negatively judged by other individuals or other parts within our internal system.
    • Managers are those who are directive and controlling to avoid situations and interactions which might further hurt the exile part/s. These parts of us are often highly intellectual and good at problem-solving but push emotions away.
    • Firefighters are those parts of us that spring into action in emergencies when we’re caught off guard. When the exile parts of us have been triggered, these firefighting parts can jump into soothing and placate their emotional expression. Emotional eating or splurging our savings on clothes to make ourselves feel better are examples of ways we look to put out the emotional fire that is blazing.

    Regardless of the different characteristics of these parts we have within us, they all serve a primary purpose but in different ways: to protect us and keep us safe.

    When we learn to see how and why they do this, we dissolve our need to fight our self-perceptions.

    We no longer have to fight against the negative voices in our heads. We can now guide and use them to our advantage to help us get to where we now want to go.

    4. Reframe Your Language to Practice Healthy Detachment

    You don’t need to undergo intensive therapy to benefit from some simple language reframing techniques. When you change a few words in your self-labeling narrative, you can drastically change the impact that narrative can have on you.

    When you look at the following four sentences, you have a sense of which one feels the most self-deprecating and which one feels the least:

    • “No one loves me. I’m simply not attractive.”
    • “Right now, I feel that no one loves me. At the moment, I don’t feel attractive.”

    Which statement feels the heaviest? Did you notice the changes in the sentences?

    Self-perceptions we make tend to be purely black and white. We also tend to inaccurately and blanketly apply them to cover all contexts and situations, particularly when our emotions are the most intense.

    Reframing your self-narrative is easier than trying to eliminate it in one fell swoop. Recognize that your self-perception is but a reflection of transient feelings you are feeling at particular moments in time, and you’ll become better at preserving your self-worth.

    5. Forget Positive Affirmations and Practice Truthful Self-Perceptions

    As a coach and a consultant, I have often had clients come to me wanting to instantly silence any negative self-talk they express toward themselves. It is true our subconscious develops healthier inner dialogue over time with the regular and frequent practice of feeding it better mental nutrition. However, no amount of positive self-talk can transform negative self-perceptions if we don’t believe they could be true.

    If you have a poor body image, you can tell yourself until you’re blue in the face that you have nothing to be concerned about when you look in the mirror. You’re still going to be free from the mental and emotional shackles that such self-perception holds.

    You’ll be pleased to know the answer isn’t in endless journaling or writing out positive affirmations hundreds of times a day. There’s a faster and more effective way!

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    Develop phrases which you actually believe that guide you to look in the direction of how you want to see yourself:

    I’m working towards improving how I see and/or feel about myself.”

    “I’m learning and practicing how to adjust this aspect of myself so it better serves me.”

    Notice how there is no mention of looking to improve or delete an aspect of your personality in either of these statements?

    Your subconscious will be more on board with you using the phraseology above because you’re emotionally more receptive to it. It feels safe, honest, and true.

    Practice more language and phrases like these above and you will grow incredible self-perception that will take you beyond what you originally felt you were worthy of aiming for.

    6. Combine a Growth Mindset and Imagery to Untap Your Potential

    The use of imagery is an incredibly powerful mental tool to help you develop more helpful self-perceptions that will serve you in moving toward your initial goals. Combine this with simple growth mindset questions, and you’ll be well on your way to unleashing your potential.

    Using an example, let’s say you don’t feel you don’t have what it takes to apply for a certain job.

    The first part of the exercise is to playfully develop the growth and expansive mindset questions and entertain the answers to them:

    1. What if I did have enough skill, expertise, knowledge, and confidence?
    2. How would I approach applying for the job?
    3. How would I be feeling as I applied for the job?
    4. How would I feel upon submitting my application or getting an interview?

    The second part now is to bring those potential answers to life. Breathe life into a mini-movie scene of these possibilities you create in your imagination. Imagine the environment you surround yourself in as you prepare your job application.

    When you engage your five physical senses during imagery, you can ignite physical and emotional responses that signal to your brain what you are focusing on is important. The more you practice the imagery in which you paint a healthier and helpful self-perception, the more your reticular activating system[5] will look for opportunities for this to come to fruition in reality.

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    You can learn more visualization techniques in this article.

    7. Deliberately Practice Healthier Self-Perceptions

    Our hidden potential remains untapped when we aren’t moving toward clearly defined goals.

    From recognizing our unhelpful self-perception, we can start to shape those which aren’t just healthier for us but also strategically helpful for us in moving toward what we want to experience, do, and have.

    When you next look at a particular goal, ask yourself the following questions:

    1. What qualities do I already have that could and would help to meet that goal?
    2. What do I already know that could help me meet this goal?
    3. How can I position myself to gain the skills and knowledge that would help me achieve this goal?
    4. What choice/s along the way would give me opportunities to experience satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment in ways that matter to me?
    5. Even if I don’t meet this goal, will I still feel good about myself throughout the efforts I make to do so?

    These questions are not only strengths-based. They also guide you to make choices and create opportunities that help you feel higher and healthier levels of fulfillment.

    Meeting the goal may or may not happen. Regardless, your self-perception is sure to undergo powerful, positive transformations on many levels.

    Final Thoughts

    These 7 tips will help you realize your potential and change your self-perception positively.

    Through learning how to practice acceptance and compassion toward yourself and how to have a better relationship with yourself, you can develop self-concepts that help you untap your hidden potential.

    You’ll be radiating a healthy glow that’s almost palpable with a powerful sense of self that will take you wherever you want to go!

    More Tips on Improving Your Self-Perception

    Featured photo credit: Vince Fleming via unsplash.com

    Reference

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