How often do you take time to appreciate and express gratitude for things and people in your life? If not often enough, than you might be missing out on the enormous benefits gratitude is known to bring.
Back in high school I achieved sometimes great. I fought against all the obstacles to get it. I was proud of myself. And for many years that was my story. If you ever asked me about my biggest achievement, I would tell you this story.
The years started passing.. But my story has never changed… I was in my early 20s, and this story was still the ultimate representation of my internal strength.
See, there was one problem… As I said, this story happened in high school. That means, it happened many many years ago.
I started wondering: is it really possible that in all those years after that story took place, I have done nothing else that was equally amazing? I had two answers to this question: I am either a total loser who indeed has never done anything else worth noticing, or: I am simply not noticing these things.
And this is when I came across the concept of expressing gratitude. I’ve been practising it for less than 2 years only, but the results are so far AMAZING. If you ask me now to tell you a story in which my inner strength overcame any obstacle on the way – I can tell you many. Not because I started doing more, but simply because I notice that I’ve been living those stories all along.
(by the way, if you’re curious to know what that high school story is, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you all about it)
So what is gratitude?
According to Wikipedia: “Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.”
Initially gratitude was a focus of religion, and psychologist really started studying it only in about 2000. Why so late? Because for many many years, psychology was all about understanding what’s wrong with people and how to help them in their illness, rather than about happiness and life purpose.
That has changed with the emergence of positive psychology (to know more about what positive psychology is, I strongly recommend to you this TED talk by one of the best psychologists ever and a founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman). We now have a whole area of psychology focused entirely on what makes us happy, and what makes us feel fulfilled. We now realise that our health is not only the lack of any mental diseases, but also a state of joy and bliss. And as such, positive psychology has studied gratitude in detail. It’s been shown that people who express gratitude generally have a higher level of well being. In other words, gratitude and our happiness are directly related.
Why is expressing gratitude so important?
As we mentioned above, gratitude is an important factor of happiness. It helps us appreciate things we have, rather than always focus on what we’d like to have but we don’t. This makes us overall less stressed and less depressed, more satisfied with our lives and our relationships. It also makes us stronger at copying with difficulties. Gratitude helps us stay present int he current moment.
If you prefer a more scientific approach, there is a whole study dedicated to benefit of expressing gratitude!
How do you practice expressing gratitude?
I’ve tried and heard of many tools to help you practice expressing gratitude. Let me share with you my personal system that I’ve found to be working the best for me (I call it The Gratitude Triada). You can, of course, modify it to your liking. After all – it’s about you, and you want something that works for YOU. Before I start, let me just share with you that expressing gratitude daily is known to have the best benefits on us. This is why, to get the most of this practice, make it your habit.
The Gratitude Triada
My model of expressing gratitude consists of 3 level (or steps) and so I call it The Gratitude Triada.
Step 1: First thing, you’ll need a journal for that. Though you can just write it on your computer, I honestly would not recommend it. Expressing gratitude is very personal. And it just feels more real and more you if you hand write it.
The first step in The Gratitude Triada will take about 10 minutes of your time. Every evening, before going to bed, think of all the amazing things that happened to you today.
- What new things have you learned today?
- What amazing people came to your life today?
- What lesson have you received? (try finding something positive even in situations that we tend to label as negative)
- How have you become a better person today?
- How have you moved closer to your goals today?
Then write all those down. It doesn’t matter how small those items are. Learn to appreciate small things as well. Too often we don’t give them enough time and attentions. You can be grateful for the sunny weather. Or that a saleslady smiled at you. That your lunch was delicious. There is no shame is seeing these small things as something worth expressing gratitude for. You don’t need to look for items that would make the news headline. If things like that happened, that’s awesome, but the true art of expressing gratitude is about noticing the small things.
At the beginning it might be difficult to come up with such a list. If you see notice such a block, then make it a rule to write the minimum of 5 things. That will force you to dig much deeper and train your brain muscle for noticing smaller things.
Once you have that list, read it again. If you meditate, you can spend another 10 minutes or so, meditating on those points.
Continue this practice every day. Soon you’ll start looking forwards to those moments as one of the best ones in your day.
Step 2: You do step 2 at the end of the month. I also recommend that you keep another journal for this one.
When the month ends, take your previous journal, in which you wrote everything that you’ve been thankful for in the last month. Re-read the whole list. Firstly, let all of that sink in. At that moment, you’re probably noticing a big smile on your face. Great! That’s the whole point of this practice. Appreciating things in our lives makes us generally more happy beings.
In the second step, I want you to choose the biggest items from that list. In the first step the goal was to start appreciating things around us. To realize, that we are living a pretty great life! Now in step number 2, you’re doing something different. You’re helping yourself notice the progress you’ve been making. For that reason we want to focus on big items only. Items that really are the milestones for you. Something that, if you read it a few months from now, you will still have a vivid memory of.
Once you have those items, write them down in your second journal. This is the journal you want to keep with you and never throw it away.
Step 3: You do step 3 only once a year. Just like you analyzed your previous month and took the essence of it, in step 3 you do the same for the whole year.
When the year ends, take up your second journal, and read all the amazing stuff that have happened to you (or that you made happen) over the last 12 months. And as before, choose the most important ones – the ones that make the whole year unforgettable. Then write them down.
You can keep the same journal for step 2 and 3 (I do that). Or, if you prefer, you can keep two. It’s up to you.
Here is the summary of the 3-step process of my Gratitude Triada:
Steps 2 and 3 serve a very important purpose. They help you understand what progress you’re making every year, how much you’re growing and how much you move forward. Trust me, you will need it.
Too often we think our dreams are too big for us. We look into the future and we get immediately discouraged. We think to ourselves: How can I achieve that? i don’t have skills or knowledge for that! The gap between you now and your goal is so big, that any excitement you might have initially feel, is now gone.
But have you ever looked back and appreciated how much you’ve grown? Have you noticed how many of your dreams you have already accomplished? The dreams that years ago scared you just as much those you have now? Here is where expressing gratitude comes in again.
Let me illustrate it.
Below you can see a graph with 3 points representing you in time: you in the past, you now and you in the future (where your goals are). What we usually look at is the distance between the now and our goals. We focus on things we are missing to get there. What the practice of expressing gratitude is promoting, it to take a look at the distance between you now and you in the past. How much have you grown? How much have your learnt? How better of a person you’ve become? This new approach will allow you to notice how fast you’re moving forward. Back in time you surely had dreams that scared you and that you had no idea how to achieve. But somehow on the way you did. Somehow you found what you needed to get there. Appreciate those past successes. Let them motivate you to strive for the next big goal. You will achieve. You’ve already done so much to get there.
Show your gratitude to others
You have now accomplished a very important step – expressing gratitude for what you have and who you are. Once that becomes your habit, you’re see significant changes in your life (and your mood :P ).
Another way to practice expressing gratitude it to show it to others.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward
Just like any small thing deserves your appreciation, so do people in your life. There is no greater gift you can give to anybody than a kind word or a nice gesture.
These are called Small Acts Of Kindness, and they’ve been promoted by organisations and public figures such as Oprah Winfrey (you can check her recommended list of 35 acts of kindness here).
Here are some ideas for you to use:
- Wish a happy day to a salesperson when buying lunch
- Buy flowers for your best friend / girlfriend
- Welcome people in the elevator with ‘good morning’ while on your way to work.
- Organize an appreciation day for your loved one (ex. Mat’s Appreciation Day) and in this day do all the things you can think of to make his day unforgettable.
- Hug a person who feels sad
- Leave a note on a desk of your colleague
- Bring coffee for your boss to help him stay alert throughout a day
- Write an appreciative letter and put in on your neighbours mailbox
To help you get started here are a few inspirational quotes about kindness.
Now back to you.
Do you practice expressing gratitude? How has that impacted your life? How do you express gratitude? Share your tips and comments below.
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