As we brim with anticipation for the Thanksgiving festivities of tomorrow on this ordinary Wednesday (at least according to our calendars), I've got to thinking about gratitude.
Beyond our propensity to adhere to unspoken social rules and keep our moral barometers in balance (i.e., we should readily express gratitude because it's the right thing to do), why does gratitude matter and how does it affect our lives?
Happiness is hard to define, but we can think about it as being influenced by a collection of internal and external factors, such as our individual personality traits, our circumstances (e.g., health, environment, relationships, etc), and our daily choices (e.g., how we care for our bodies, our careers, how we cope with stress, what we think, what we say, etc). What if I told you that research suggests that expressions of gratitude and happiness have a strong positive correlation?
More gratitude = more happiness. Less gratitude = less happiness.
This is because expressing gratitude positively affects many of those internal and external factors that influence our happiness experience.
Let's get more specific. Here are just a handful of the effects that consistent expressions of gratitude have on our lives:
Anyone else feeling motivated to shift your attitude to gratitude? I certainly am.
So, how do we consistently infuse our ordinary days with gratitude?
1. Find gratitude for the little things that surround you. Look around. Do you see things that you appreciate? A warm home? A furry friend? A good book? A blue sky? We are surrounded by things that we often take for granted, but consistently taking time to be thankful for the little things has a big impact on our happiness.
2. Rather than waiting for specific successes or opportunities to feel grateful, we can choose to feel grateful throughout each and every moment of our experiences. Are you furiously climbing the rope of life in search of the top without stopping to appreciate the experience of the climb? Oftentimes, we forget to pat ourselves on the back for the small stuff, thinking we will only deserve self-expressions of gratitude once we reach the top. However, experience tells us (and so does the research), that the excitement of being at the top is fleeting. As time wears on, that gratitude for one achievement slips through our fingers and we long for the next. Give yourself permission to appreciate the climb.
3. Gratitude begins with you. To consistently express gratitude for others, we must first express gratitude for our lives and ourselves. Toss aside your concerns that this might be a tiny bit self-indulgent. It's not. When we genuinely love, appreciate, and offer thanks to ourselves, we lay a solid, unshakable foundation upon which to cultivate good vibes for others.
4. In the wise words of Madonna, Express Yourself. To feel gratitude at that deep, buzzy, electric level, we need to offer up good vibes to the universe. Write a thank you note to someone you've been meaning to thank for a long time, go out of your way to verbally deliver thanks to someone in your life, or demonstrate your gratitude by lending a helping hand.
5. Connect with your body. Is your state of being (e.g., warm, well-fed, calm, peaceful, excited, etc.) something for which to be grateful? Feel it, experience it, and appreciate it.
6. When in doubt, journal it out. Take a quick five minutes out of your day to jot down a list of the little things for which you're feeling grateful. Research has shown that this daily 5-minute exercise yields a 10% increase in happiness in just six months.
7. Give your partner a daily pat on the back. Find one thing to thank your partner for each and every day. When we express thanks for the good, we are less likely to nitpick the other stuff.
8. In sight, on mind. Place gratitude reminders in everyday spaces (e.g., car, office, bathroom mirror, kitchen, etc). Even a post-it note that reads: "I am grateful" is enough to cue our brains to give thanks.
9. Get your exercise thank on. Although we typically associate "setting an intention" with yoga, we can set intentions for any form of exercise. Whether you're running, lifting weights, dancing around your living room, or getting your yoga flow on, mentally set an intention to offer the energy you're generating to someone else. I often dedicate my yoga practice to someone in my life that I haven't seen in a while or to someone who positively influences my days even when they're not directly in my presence. This mental extension of thanks while generating all sorts of good energy feels like an extra-special (and slightly sweaty) expression of gratitude.
10. May the first thoughts of your day be ones of gratitude. Take charge of the first thoughts of your day, because they lay the foundation upon which every other thought is built. Despite our groggy morning state, our urge to punt our alarm clocks, and an everyday case of the Mondays, we can wake each day with gratitude and excitement for a new day. Toss those naysayer thoughts aside, and take charge of this daily opportunity to align with gratitude. If it helps, set a morning mantra for yourself. I am grateful for this day. Inhale love, exhale gratitude. I've got an attitude of gratitude.
11. Shake it off like Taylor Swift. Even if you're a hater, you have to admit that the girl has an uncanny ability for taking the sh*t that gets tossed in her direction, transforming it into inspiration to fuel her creativity, and returning it to the world in a format that elicits positive vibes. We all have things in our lives that can grime-up our gratefulness lenses; however, we can choose gratitude despite it all. Repeat after me: I choose gratitude.
12. Turn those failures upside down. Failures, faults, and fumbles are inevitable, especially if we're pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones. When you find yourself face-to-face with your latest failure, shift your perspective. Failures are our greatest opportunities and change-initiators. Accept them as such, give thanks, and push onward.
13. Transform your complaints into thanks. We all get caught up in the everyday muck, and it's easy to zero in on the blunders and mishaps of the day. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, my gut reaction is to spew my complaints onto anyone who will listen (sorry, mom); however, when I resist that urge and shift my perspective towards gratitude for the positive, I feel happier. Rather than lingering in the low points, dance in the high points. And if you can't completely relinquish the need to vent, then search for a granule of goodness in the muck (e.g., Despite my hair catching on fire while cooking, I'm grateful that I still have half of a ponytail).
14. Offer specific and positive praise to someone. Does a coworker consistently go above and beyond in meetings? Does your husband take out the trash like a pro? Does your brother have a laugh that transforms a room into a happier place? No matter how small the act or how silly the compliment might seem before it comes out of your mouth (e.g., Brother, your contagious laughter makes me feel happier. Thanks for having that laugh and using it.), make it rain gratitude on those that surround you. Seriously though, my brother, Brad, has a really heartwarming laugh. Thanks for always sharing your good vibes, Brad!
15. That routine you have? Flip it and reverse it. Sometimes our ability to garner gratitude gets tucked away in the monotony of our routines. When you're feeling stuck and having a tough time activating your gratitude givers, break through the confines of your routine. Take a walk. Randomly visit a friend. Throw on some tunes and dance around your living room. Shaking up your routine offers a fresh perspective and shines light on the little, lovely things that have a tendency to get hidden by the cobwebs of our weekly grind.
16. When all else fails, force a laugh. Seriously! Have you heard of Laughter Therapy? Groups of people gather together in a circle, force a laugh, and the rest is giggle-worthy history. The contagious nature of laughter gets everyone laughing at once, and since our bodies can't differentiate between authentic laughter and forced laughter, we reap the benefits no matter the cause. It sounds ridiculous, but I dare you not to try forcing a laugh. Or toss on some funny YouTube videos and get going. The positive vibes created by laughter help us shift our perspective to optimism making it more likely that we'll reacquaint ourselves with gratitude.