Gratitude & Gratefulness: What is it, and how can I practice it?

BY PSYCHOLOGIST AKI SRESTHA

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is abundantly clear that the power of positive psychology on resilience, performance, relationships – and overall mental and physical wellbeing – is becoming better understood in many aspects of life.

The news feeds of many social media channels are filled with positive messages of gratefulness, gratitude, mindfulness and psychological words of wisdom designed to make you look up from your dinner, task, work or stress – and embrace the moment and context of what you are involved in.

However – what can be unclear is how to take these many tidbits of info and inspo, and put them to use practically and positively to initiate change.

And in the hype of being #mindful or #grateful in the age of Instagram and snapchat – how do we actually know if we are really benefiting from this, or just telling people we are?

What is gratitude?

Gratitude, by the official Cambridge Dictionary definition is “the feeling or quality of being grateful – a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something that has helped you.”

This definition describes a somewhat-simplified description of a response to the recognition of “help” or the exact source of goodness – and could

perhaps be interpreted as needing to receive some form of act or object in order to then be grateful.

Robert Emmons is seen as the world’s leading scientific expert in all things gratitude, and suggests that gratitude has two key components:

“First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…We acknowledge that other people…gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

Gratitude & Wellbeing

For the specific purposes of positive psychology, gratitude is a powerful tool for increasing well-being in all sorts of settings. The benefits of practicing gratitude are also not tied to any sort of specific pathology, which is also in line with the values of positive psychology research.

Expressing your thanks can really improve your overall sense of well-being: studies show that grateful people are more agreeable, more open, and less neurotic. ₁

How to practice gratitude

There are all sorts of ways to practice gratitude, and the best way to start is by trying a range of practical options.

  1. Gratitude Journaling

Gratitude Journaling is a tried and true way to document your grateful thoughts, and also a way in which to return to those thoughts for some further “contagious” inspiration!

However, it can be used poorly from a practical perspective – and simply writing “ I am grateful for my family” on a daily basis can restrict the actual benefits to wellbeing, and diminish the overall motivation to practice gratitude.

Expert Tip: In a similar way to which goal-setting works – being as specific as possible, and opening up to new interpretations of your gratitude is important. For example, gratitude for family could be “I am grateful for the laughs that my daughter gave me this morning” etc.

  1. Gratitude Jar

One nice way to keep your gratitude fresh is to place gratitude “thank notes” in a jar – and release and reflect at a later stage.

Expert Tip: This can work well personally, and also can be used successfully to drive team engagement and show appreciation for each other.

  1. Show-off your gratitude!

Gratitude can be contagious, and sharing your gratitude and appreciation can really snowball into creating a positive mindset for you generally, and the people and relationships that you are involved with. Whether at home with family, with friends or teammates/work colleagues – by taking the time to demonstrate your gratitude you are effectively reinforcing these behaviours, and influencing others to reciprocate.

Expert Tip: Share your grateful message on a group email, social media post or keep it fun by leaving a note in a team common area.

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