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Last Updated on December 14, 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

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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