I believe gratitude is an underestimated term nowadays. The fast pacing societies focus on every day stressful activities and goals not leaving time for us to stop for a while and sincerely appreciate situations or people or even things that we are glad to have them in our lives. I am sure everyone has at least a few of them even though most of the times we ignore them. It’s a fact that the most work on gratefulness has been done in religions. Prayer actually is a statement of appreciation. According to scientific findings, societies are mistaken to not pose significance to gratitude as it promotes our overall well-being.
In fact gratitude is proven to be one key factor for enriching us with the ultimate currency which is happiness.
Statistics show that depressed people are counted as being ten times more in number today that in 1960’s. After studying the reasons behind it’s more important, as Positive Psychology suggests, to see if there are ways to overcome this negative situation. Can we intervene and tend towards a more merit finder approach in our lives?
One major factor behind today’s pessimism are the external influences we come across day by day in the media. Media, instead of being a looking-glass in today’s reality, have become a magnifying glass, as the great Positive Psychologist Tal-Ben Shahar mentions. The news can be categorized as approximately 90% negative and 10% positive.
Actually, news make us believe that being optimistic is unrealistic.
Because if you all the time listen about business frauds you are going to believe that in order to be a succesful businessman you should be cheating. Or that in order to be a succesful politician you should only act in Machiavellian ways to overcome your opponents. However, this is not the whole truth. There exist millions of succesful people who managed to do it ethically. Or there exist everyday plenty of generous acts and great achievements that remain in the details of the news or aren’t mentioned at all.
The world is full of wonderful things waiting for our perception to “fish” them. The problem in all this is that our brains have the tendency to create our reality according to what we focus on.
Therefore, by observing a worse reality than the actual one, we form that kind of opinion about it and as a result our happiness is decreased.
The media follow that mentality of course for the shake of profit. But why does the negative “sell” more to people so media prefer it? The answer once again seems to have an evolutionary origin. Evolution has shaped us to be adaptive to the rule. To forget about the normal and focus on the change. The good things are the rule and the tragedies are the exception. This is a survival mechanism. In the evolutionary past we had to be able to observe a change in the smell so maybe the food was poisonous, or we should listen to a sudden sound because a predator might be approaching. Moreover, imagine if we were noticing everything; all the buildings, all the cats, all the children, birds, the road, all the other people. We would go crazy from this “over information”. So we adapt to the rule.
What catches our attention is a change like a tragedy, a loss, a baby’s cry, the alarm etc. Anything that is an exception to the normal.
And the price that we pay for this mechanism is that we stop appreciating. We take our friends, our degrees, our families for granted not remembering to feel the joy to have all this. On the contrary we feel bad about the bad events happening because, as mentioned, our minds tend to notice them more. But how can we use this adaptation?
First of all, by tending towards an optimistic style approach even in the bad situations that happen to us.
Not that the things happened for the best but you can make the best of things that happened.
We accept the negative consequences of an event but above all we use it to learn. One of the things that should challenge all of us is to learn failure. Learn to fail.
Take failure as just a fact, don’t overestimate it. Instead use it to make useful understandings about what you need to change and the next time to succeed.
This is an incredible weapon on the hands of a person that wants to develop. In fact, the most succesful people are the ones that have failed the most. All the suffering, whatever its level we can overcome it. It will end. This is human nature. If this wasn’t a fact then who knows if we would exist, most possibly we wouldn’t. Think of failure as a teaching and not as a drama. Laura King and Lucy Miner from the UCLA conducted a study on people who had suffered a psychological trauma. They divided in two groups. The first had to write a journal about their thoughts, whatever they wanted and the second had to write positive things that they could see in their situation, what they thought they had learnt. The results? The second group showed significantly higher levels of health. This study proved the existence of a direct causation between happiness and health.
Think now when do we mostly feel appreciation. We feel when something terrible was about to happen but we avoided it. When we are hungry we enjoy food more. When we recover from a sickness we feel grateful about our health. We have the tendency to notice things when we experience a change.
How bad things must go until we stop and feel the gratitude for all the good things we have in our lives?
Being grateful as a matter of fact means not taking things for granted. You can go to a shop and say how thankful you are because their products were extremely useful to you. When a friend buys you a drink, if you say thanks you express that you are not taking his/her offer for granted. And, Yes, you can learn gratefulness. Learn it as a way of life. You can intervene in your system and habituate it to appreciate as many things as possible that happen every day.
Practice Gratefulness like every habit.
Grace everything you like doing.
Also, give yourselves time to stop and think. Value the wonders. Walk slowly and think of the beauties, I’m sure you can find many. See your neighbour and say hello with a smile. Go to your favorite restaurant and tell the cooker that you believe his/her hands make miracles. Don’t you feel happy when you do this? Say to your good friends that you are glad to have them in your lives. Have in your mind to try to behave this way all the time. Can’t you see that gratefulness is a win-win situation? Both sides experience positive feelings.
And let’s go to even more practical applications by mentioning an important study first. In the year 2002 Emmons and McCullogh followed for six months people that had divided in 4 groups. The first group had to sit down every night and write 5 small or big things that were grateful. The second had to write about 5 negative things in their lives. The third had to write 5 things they believed were more competent than others and the forth was a control group who could write whatever they wanted. The researchers measured them in several aspects such as levels of happiness, health, generosity, optimism, how likely they were to achieve goals etc. The results were more than interesting. The first group outperformed all the others in all aspects! By spending 5 minutes per day to write down 5 things they felt gratitude the people were healthier, happier, more generous, more effective etc. In 2004 McCraly and Childre replicated the study and added physical implications of gratitude. Parasympathetic activity is increased so you feel less stress, hypertension is controlled and vitality is increased among others.
The above studies lead to the concept of Gratitude Journal. professor Tal Ben Shahar, to whose teachings this article is mostly based, focuses a lot on it. He said that gratitude is a state which means we feel it at that time, but how can we make it a habit?
Sit down every night and write at least 5 things – it doesn’t matter how important – that you feel grateful to have them.
Some people may underestimate the power of journaling. You may think that, OK, I understand the mentality, I am not so stupid to need to write it down. Oh, yes, you need to but that doesn’t mean you are stupid. I remember Napoleon Hill in the basis of Self-Help “Think and Grow Rich” mentioning how many important people use journaling and was very helpful to them. By journaling we make better sense of experiences and emotions. Journaling is useful for several other situations and in several other ways but for now we’ll focus on gratitude journal. This activity only takes 5 minutes and provides us with so many benefits. Just be careful , you need to
Feel sincere appreciation at the time of the journal, be mindful and experience the emotions.
Here is my own gratitude journal for the day that has passed now that I am writing. If you see not all the things are important. First of all I appreciate my parents because they have always been there for me and I am sure will always be. Then is the morning cold shower that activates my body immediately, refreshes me and has many other positive effects. In fact I described this in Health and Weight Loss Effects of Cold. Then is my health which I am grateful to have it so I don’t have interventions in my productivity and my enjoyments in life. Then is the internet to which I am grateful almost every day because of plenty of reasons but mostly for giving us the chance to come across a so vast amount of knowledge and also that we are able to easily communicate as long as we don’t overdo it. Of course I am grateful that I know the existence of a so great teacher as Tal-Ben Shahar. In fact I am grateful that I had the chance to read his books and download his Harvard lectures which are among the most influential videos I have ever watched. In fact I didn’t have him in my mind for the last months but I decided to write about this topic and his teachings were the first to refer to. What we were saying about our tendencies? So now is once again in my journal. Last goes the cold Greek Frappe coffee I enjoyed this morning and almost every morning.
You can leave your comments below. Do you feel that in the process of every day activities sometimes you forget to appreciate and mostly to show your gratitude actively? And if this happens are you willing to set it as one of your goals?