Take a problem, any problem. Pour some gratitude on it, and watch it begin to dissolve.
If that sounds like a stretch to you, all I can say is give it a try.
Regardless of the nature of your problem, look for something in the situation for which you can be grateful. If you’re deeply enmeshed in it emotionally, it may take a little effort; but the effort is well worth making. And always, you will be able to find things to be grateful for. Always. Once you find a few things, center your attention and your breathing in your heart area, and let yourself actually feel your gratitude for them. You’ll return to your problem with a lighter, more resourceful frame of mind.
The power of gratitude is proven, not only by personal testimony that stretches back into the mists of time, but through empirical evidence generated by researchers in positive psychology.
What the science shows is that, as one of the key positive emotions, gratitude expands your view of things, giving you a broader, more resourceful perspective. The spaciousness it creates lets you soften the tight focus you had on your problem and to open yourself to clues or comforts that may have been hiding just out of sight.
Gratitude is more than emotion. Positive psychology classifies it as one of the 24 basic character strengths. And like all strengths, you can increase its play in your life simply by giving it more attention and creating an intention to apply it more fully in your life.
The Amazing Benefits of Gratitude
It’s worth the effort to build more gratitude into your life. Not only will you be happier – and able to more easily deal with your problems – but you’ll gain a wealth of additional benefits.
Grateful people, for example, sleep better and have better relationships.
Positive psychology tells us that gratitude involves both acknowledging good things that happen – being mindful of present benefits – and recognizing that the sources of goodness are outside us. It helps to keep us rooted in the present moment and to experience more peace.
In his essay on gratitude for Positive Psychology News Daily, David Pollay quotes University of California psychology professor Robert Emmons as saying:
“Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”
Read slowly through that list of qualities again, and just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine being filled with them. Imagine how enriched you would feel if they were your default way of experiencing life.
How to Build Gratitude
All the personal strengths are like muscles; exercise them and they get stronger. Here are a few fun practices, many of them from the wonderful little book, Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life’s Gifts, that you may enjoy for inviting more gratitude into your life:
- Set aside time for gratitude. Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a few minutes to remember some of the people, things and events that you value. End your day with the “Three Good Things” exercise, or by making an entry in a gratitude journal.
- Take time to make a list of the people and things that you value in your life. Include people and events from the past that helped you become who you are today.
- Notice when things go well – your car starts, your coworker smiles at you, your report goes well, your family enjoyed their dinner together. Be grateful for events.
- Look around and see what you’re taking for granted: running water, electricity, working plumbing, food, clothing, fresh air, health, soap, razor blades, towels, toilet paper. What would your life be like without them? What if you had no access to them, or even the hope of any?
- Be grateful for talents, skills, abilities. Wow, I can read! Isn’t that a miracle?
- Savor happy memories.
- Be thankful for bad things avoided and for things you haven’t lost. It could have been worse; it was worse in the past.
- Think about where things came from and what it took to invent, create, package, transport, and market them. Think about all the connections involved, all the people and systems and materials.
- Express your gratitude. When you receive good customer service, look the other person in the eyes and express your appreciation. Both of you will be pleased. Praising people for what they do motivates them.
- Use focused gratitude to improve a negative situation. If your hands are hurting you, appreciate your strong legs or that you can see well. If you’re struggling with your job, try keeping a gratitude list of the things about it you can find to appreciate.
- To build the gratitude skills of your children and to generate a more positive work environment, practice expressing your gratitude for good efforts out loud. Positive moods are as contagious as negative ones. By practicing gratitude you literally make the world a happier place.
Need some inspiration to get your practice started? Enjoy this beautiful video, written by Buddhist monk written by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, founder of the uplifting website Gratefulness.org:
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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths. To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”
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