What if we could never be depleted of joy, happiness and optimism; what if we had the opportunity to refill our tanks as often as needed to retain a healthy sense of wellbeing? Much research now suggests we can! And the fuel with which we need to recharge our
batteries, our day, and even our life is something so simple and accessible, it’s hard to imagine that it's this powerful. What is this fuel additive? It's Gratitude.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. in his groundbreaking research revealed that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness and optimism, and that a simple practice of gratitude protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. Emmons illustrates that those people who experience gratitude are able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, and are more resilient in the face of trauma. His research concluded that experiencing gratitude leads us to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, and even altruism. He goes on to say, “When people experience gratitude, they feel more loving, more forgiving and closer to God.
“Gratitude elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. Gratitude provides life with meaning by encapsulating life itself as a gift,” he suggests. His research also demonstrates that happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable and self-confident and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities. Practices such as gratitude which enhance joy and a sense of wellbeing contribute to success.
So, before you begin considering that others don’t seem to be grateful for you, it’s essential to recognize that the rewards of gratitude described above don’t come from being thanked, appreciated or recognized. They are derived by being thankful. When we express appreciation, it’s awesome if another person feels good. Emmons' research, however, even suggests that those giving the compliments are the real winners. When we sincerely feel thankful, we get positive chemical releases in our brain; and the even better news, when feeling thankful becomes a habit, just like with other habits, our brains rewire and we literally become more grateful. It becomes how you see the world.
When you wake up in the morning, are you grateful? If not, put a little note by your bed as a reminder and consider prompting yourself to remember and consider those things for which you might be grateful:
You woke up and you are still breathing…awesome!
If you had the privilege of sleeping in a bed…awesome!
If the room you awoke in is not too hot or too cold…awesome!
If you feel all right and aren’t nauseated and vomiting…awesome!
If the sun is shining and you have eyes to see it…awesome!
If you can walk and your legs are able to help you out of bed…awesome!
Just try this simple gratitude practice; you’ll be amazed at how it influences everything in your day. And when gratitude becomes your habit, you’ll be amazed at how it influences your life. It will become the fuel for building and maintaining a sense of wellbeing and energy for whatever the future holds.
If changing your morning routine to focus on gratitude doesn’t feel right, then consider other gratitude practices that might stimulate your sense of appreciation and thankfulness:
Start a Gratitude journal; every day simply write down three to five good things you experienced. If you can’t come up with three at first, just identify one (remember you are still breathing and clearly you had enough money to purchase a notebook if this is the practice you choose; there are good things in your orbit if you can learn to see them)
Keep a gratitude jar; every time you are grateful throughout the day, simply jot it down and drop it in the jar. This is a really good way to engage your family in joining you in learning to see things for which you might be grateful.
Write one or two thank you notes each week and actually share your appreciation of another person. If they benefit from you expressing your gratitude, that wonderful; if not, remember you will feel better for having written the note.
Research from Harvard on Positive Psychology suggested that “Gratitude is a way to step off the hedonic treadmill, appreciating what you have instead of always reaching for something new in hopes it will make you happier." Gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. Martin Seligman, the guru of Positive Psychology, along with his colleagues tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people. When participants wrote and personally delivered letters of gratitude to someone in their lives whom they had not previously thanked, participants exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores; the immediate impact was greater than any other intervention that was tested, with benefits lasting for a month. Subsequent studies revealed that delivering the letter was not essential to gaining happiness, so, they remarked, people who are deceased or whom you cannot reach are fair game for thanks!
I recently heard a presentation from a gentleman who had just written a book because it was his way of giving back and expressing appreciation for the remarkable life he’d been able to lead. He declared during his introduction that he was one of the luckiest people he knew. He went on to share his life’s journey which by all accounts was extraordinary, but I truly believe he would have felt the same way regardless of his life’s circumstance. When you visit with Joe, he’s grateful for so much; and as he tells his story, he weaves appreciation into every chapter of his life’s experience. For Joe, gratitude serves as the fuel that enables him to continue living his best life, every day.
Today it seems cynicism and snarkiness are contagious; these however, are not the thought patterns or behaviors that fuel our journeys to joy and wellbeing. Joseph Dispenza, MD in his research revealed in Becoming Supernatural discusses the energy that enables us to recondition our bodies to a new mind. He identifies the self-limiting emotions as anger, frustration, guilt, suffering, grief, and fear. Instead he encourages us to use mindfulness to turn these very real emotions into what he calls the ‘elevated emotions’ like love, gratitude and joy. Spending even a few minutes reflecting mindfully and expressing to ourselves sincere gratitude for things and people in our lives will enable us to tap into these elevated emotions.
A friend in my previous workplace often reminded me, “What we think about, we bring about.” Be grateful; consider the good in your life, and express appreciation in some form.
Fill your thankful tank, every day!