Perhaps it’s just because I’m a psychologist who’s passionate about making sense of the human condition, and hungry to understand how we can better cope with suffering; and maximise wellbeing, peace and harmony in our families and in society-at-large, but I reckon you’d have to be living under a rock to be completely oblivious to the benefits and power that gratitude brings to our lives.
You’d have to be living under a rock to be completely oblivious to the benefits and power that gratitude brings to our lives.
Volumes has been written about gratitude and its correlation with higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and even a stronger immune system, as well as the positive effect we have on others when we express our thanks to them.
Although you’d reckon when we know better, we do better, it’s often easier said than done to be grateful for what’s working well rather than attending to what is not. And there’s good reason for that. We are hard-wired to focus on negatives and danger to survive.
For centuries, we needed to know where problems and threats were lurking so we developed an active but often unconscious habit of scanning our surrounds for the things that may go wrong, the people who may do us harm, and the events that may challenge or thwart our survival. While viewing the world through this lens seems to have served us well as a species in some ways, it can also come at a cost to our wellbeing, especially when we overlook the positive moments, people, experiences and events in our lives, both big and small.
Now that science has helped us understand the benefits of gratitude, we are invited to make a choice whether we want to engage in giving thanks and reap the intrinsic rewards and outcomes that gratitude brings, or continue without this powerful, accessible, and free tool in our toolkit.
As is the case with any behaviour change, step one requires recognition about where we are at, followed by a conscious choice to do things differently.
Creating room for gratitude simply means setting time aside to ask yourself (and others in the family unit) what’s going well, what you are thankful about, and why.
Although the research behind gratitude is rigorous, it’s not rocket science. However, choosing to shine a light on what you’re thankful for is a significant adjustment to the looking glass of life for many of us. It’s not a matter of turn-that-frown-upside-down rhetoric, and it’s not about ignoring the struggles that arise.
When we buy a white car, suddenly we notice everyone else driving white cars; and when we are pregnant, it seems rounded bellies are all around. Therefore, the call to action here is to shift what you attend for at least part of each day so the little patchy garden path of thankful neurons in our brain becomes a much-travelled gratitude superhighway until our gratitude neurons are regular recipients of thankful speeding fines!
Practicing gratitude can occur in many ways including the super effective Three Blessings Journal Technique (described in Dr MCG’s FPF blog). You may also like to start a gratitude jar where every family member writes down something they are grateful for each night. At the end of the week, empty the jar around the family dinner table and invite conversation about why you’re grateful for these things. Or think of someone in your past who did something you are thankful for, write them a letter and attempt to deliver it in person. Checkout the Gratitude Garden App, or hop on the Positivity Ratio website by Dr Barbara Fredrickson.
Whatever your action, the take-away message is clear. Gratitude is a choice that we can all make today regardless of what’s happening in our life. It’s a choice loaded with scientific evidence that when practiced, not only helps role model the benefits of giving thanks to our children and loved ones, but helps each of us reap the rewards of noticing what is working well, no matter how small, every day. White cars and pregnant tummies may be all around, but so are kind people, opportunities to connect, joys to delight our senses, and small experiences that have the potential to impact us in meaningful ways.