At its essence, gratitude is about being thankful and appreciative of what one has. It focuses us on the tangible and intangible good things we have in our lives. Thereby allowing us to notice the blessings around us and distracting us from continually mulling over misfortunes.
Where does Gratitude come from?
The word “gratitude”, derived from a Latin word, gratia means grace, gratefulness or graciousness. Gratitude is thus an expression of thanks that acknowledges good external to oneself. It reminds you that you are connected to a bigger picture outside of your own ambitions and abilities. It is often in response to kind favours, gifts and other types of generosity.
Three Expressions of Gratitude
- Past: Remembering positive memories or experiences and being thankful for them.
- Present: Not taking good things for granted and being thankful for them when they occur.
- Future: Having a positive and optimistic attitude towards the future.
Can Gratitude help make You Happier?
In psychology, it is noted as being consistently and strongly related to helping people feel happier, experience more positive emotions as well as build stronger relationships and enjoy life more.
Gratitude can Impact Well-being
Two psychologists, Dr Robert Emmons (University of California, Davis) and Dt Michael McCullough (University of Miami) ran an experiment to see the impact of gratitude over time. They divided their study group into three. Once a week, one group focused on journaling on something they were grateful for and the second focused on something they were irritated by. The third group journaled on general events that affected them. After 10 weeks it was discovered that those in the first group were overall more enthusiastic and optimistic about their lives than the people in the other two groups. A surprise discovery was that the first group also visited doctors less than those that focused on irritations.
Gratitude is Good for Your Health
While gratitude isn’t a self-help tool and won’t cure depression and anxiety, it has been shown to assist in buffering against mental health problems, curbing anxiety and minimising stress. This is because expressing it causes our brain to release dopamine and serotonin which help to make us feel good. Practicing gratitude can also assist with improving sleep!
The Impact of Gratitude in Relationships
On some marriage courses, couples are encouraged to actively notice and express thanks for everyday things. The reason for doing this is that it decreases the expectations placed on one another and instead reminds each person of the little ways that their partner cares for them. This leads to a more positive attitude towards each other and tends to enable partners to express concerns about their relationship more easily.
Gratitude in the Work Place
Expressing gratitude acknowledges the effort made by the person being thanked. Usually this results in that person feeling more positive all around. Within a work context this often translates to greater productivity. Thus, even if its in someone’s job description, a manager that takes note and acknowledge an individual’s efforts and contributions will see better results in their overall team’s performance.
Can Gratitude be Taught?
Gratitude can be learnt. It can also be learnt at any stage of life. It’s about establishing a great habit. One whereby you note things that are positively impacting your life and think about where or who they emanate from. Teaching Kids to say “Please” and “Thank You” is one way of starting things off. Its also a way of buffering against an attitude of desert and “mine-mine-mine”.
Ways to Nurture Gratitude
As gratitude is a habit there are things we can do to nurture and grow an attitude of thanks.
- Thank someone – Call them up or pop them a message thanking them for something they’ve done or what they mean to you
- Review your day – Mentally go through your day and take note of what happened that you are grateful for
- Keep a record – Start a list of things you are grateful for. Over time it will be a fantastic reference point when things get you down and you need a reminder of the positive things that have happened to you
Within a group, a way of cultivating gratitude is to make a habit of sharing what everyone is grateful for with each other. Some families find that a great time to do this is over a meal.
When Gratitude goes Wrong
Like many positive things, gratitude can have a flip side which isn’t beneficial to you or those around you.
- When it comes to expressing gratitude, more is not always better. A balance is needed so that a repeated thanking doesn’t lead to questions of sincerity.
- Focusing on the “good” of someone instead of realistically looking at the negative, especially when a relationship is abusive, is counter productive to getting out of an unhealthy situation.
- Sweeping issues under the carpet by showing gratitude is an avoidance tactic that can prevent resolution and instead lead to resentment.
- Not accepting credit when it’s due or expressing excessive gratitude detracts from your own success. This could demotivate you in the longer run as well as undermine your self-confidence.
- It is not tit-for-tat. A tit-for-tat kindness routine results in you trying to “repay” a kindness instead of expressing your appreciation. It could mean that you actually don’t want to build a closer relationship with someone.
Gratitude Around the World
Worldwide there are days that are set aside to celebrate gratitude. They are commonly known as “Thanksgiving” days. While a day of Thanksgiving has its roots in cultural and religious traditions, often with focus on a harvest, it is now celebrated as a secular holiday as well. The most well-known being in the United States of America on the fourth Thursday of November and the second Monday of October in Canada. Other countries where a Thanksgiving Day is widely celebrated are, for example, Brazil, Australia, Liberia, Grenada, Netherlands and St Lucia. Some countries have a similar holiday which parallels a Thanksgiving Day. In Germany the Erntedankfest is celebrated in October. It has a religious component, across the country various parades are held and beer festivals, such as the Munich Oktoberfest, take place around the same time.
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