5 Simple Steps To Cultivating Gratitude. I don’t claim to be an exceptionally brilliant study of human nature, but I do know that the unhappiest people I know are the least grateful. Bad things happen to everyone. Everyone. Deserved or not, we’ll all suffer. But the friends I have who practice gratitude are surely the happiest creatures on the planet.
There’s a fascinating study from UMass Dartmouth that talks about the effects of cultivating gratitude:
- People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week as compared to those who keep journals recording the stressors or neutral events of their lives.
- Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality. Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
- People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person.
- Those with a disposition towards gratitude are found to place less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
- Emerging research suggests that daily gratitude practices may have some preventative benefits in warding of coronary artery disease.
Interestingly, gratitude has nothing to do with good fortune. The wealthy can miserable and crave more, the healthy can be annoyed that they’re not thinner, the well-known can be angry they didn’t make the last cover of “Vanity Fair.”
Gratitude instead starts with the basics of our lives. Simply beginning by looking around and seeing what matters in our lives. Even when The Todd and I were unemployed two years ago, I was blissfully happy. I didn’t have a job yet, but I got to spend more times with our kids. We didn’t have much money, but our sons have autism and don’t really care if they’re getting a new iPad or not. I’ll never pretend that I understand what a truly difficult, heartbreaking life is like. I can’t understand the depth of sorrow our friends can endure. But I do know that the people I admire have come through unimaginable trauma and loss with a simple gratitude for what was left.
Make a list, every night or every morning. The quickest start is a Gratitude Journal. Take the pressure off yourself-you don’t need an essay every day. Just manage to scribble down 3 things before you pass out from exhaustion or look for them the next morning when you’re more coherent. Some couples keep the journal together. This can be as simple as “thank you for the world’s most delicious slice of watermelon” to “thank you for a career where I can help others.” Review the list when you start feeling discouraged or unhappy. You’ll sleep better and you’ll wake up with optimism.
Create. DIY projects can be enormously satisfying, especially when you stand back and look at the fruits of your labors. It doesn’t have to be huge–as a matter of fact, PLEASE start small–learning to knit a scarf, or doing one of those endless mason jar craft things I find on Pinterest every day.
Turn off the TV, internet and avoid magazines. The media is saturated with every possible way to sell you something. The presentation of what is claimed to be “middle-class” is ridiculously overblown: studies show that in films the “average” person would have to make over half a million dollars a year to maintain the life they’re presenting. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with despair because it looks like everyone else is doing so much better than you.
Serve. There’s nothing better to build gratitude than helping out on a food drive, serving dinner at the soup kitchen, going over to a neighbor’s house who’s sick and doing 10 loads of laundry. Not because you have it “so much better than they do,” but because watching others handle difficulties with grace helps us learn. And sharing your love and time with them builds your gratitude reserve.
Surround yourself with like-minded friends. Seek out friends who have the qualities you admire–the ability to see the beautiful in the ordinary. I learned my best skills on cultivating gratitude from a girlfriend with MS–she’s sharp, funny and simply refuses to be bitter. Last month, we drove to Silver Lake and I helped her out of her wheelchair to sit in the sand. We talked about her will and plans for her children after her death. We laughed at the gritty sandwiches we were eating and dug our toes into the mud. Carlie leaned back and raised her face to the sun and smiled. “I feel like the luckiest woman alive right now!” she said joyfully. And so did I.