Cultivating Gratitude – a simple practice

Learning to look on the world around us, and the things to happen to us with a sense of gratitude is a powerful thing. The link between gratitude and happiness or ‘subjective well being’ is well documented by researchers, (see example studies here: 1, 2, 3) who have found that, no matter how young or old someone may be, developing a grateful attitude is likely to make a person feel happier.

Older man smiling: image from morguefile.com

Being grateful also changes the way we interact with others, we respond to them differently, with more positivity and patience. That’s why gratitude is often called a strength. One theory about why this works is that being grateful helps us to feel like things in our lives have meaning, and meaningfulness seems to make us happy. It certainly does feel good to think that what you’re doing has some greater purpose, as David Graeber’s book ‘Bullshit Jobs‘ points out, there’s little as tediously grim as doing something utterly pointless all day long.

So how can we develop a more grateful attitude in, and to, the world around us?

Maybe you were taught to ‘count your blessings’ as a child, and certainly what is sometimes known as ‘grateful recounting’ can be a helpful thing to do. But grateful recounting relies quite heavily on the person doing the recounting to feel like they have good things in their life. It also relies on them to enjoy the process of doing the recounting, once it starts to feel like a chore, they are likely to pack it in.

A simple gratitude practise that doesn’t rely on all being right with the world, and having to rehearse the same old lists over and over again is as follows:

Think of one person who you are really glad exists.

Concentrate and think about that person for a while, think about the reasons that you are glad of them, think about the things you like about them. Think about the reasons they came to mind in the first place; the time you spent with them; the memories you have.

If you are able to, think about the sensations that you associate with them, the textures, the smells, and the sounds, as well as the things you can see. If it’s someone you don’t know well or have never even met, then think about the way that you found out about them.

Spend five minutes thinking about that person, smile, then come back into the present moment.

If you are able to, try to make this a regular practice – daily perhaps, or every few days. make sure it’s an enjoyable experience, something you’re going to want to do again. Sit in a comfy chair perhaps, or just somewhere quiet. Let it become a habit.

Let gratitude for people become a habit, and the science tells us that you are likely to feel happier, more content and more able to be deal with difficult people and situations.

If you want to take this a step further, then why not begin to let people know about your gratitude for them. If you are grateful someone exists, why not let them know? A short email, a postcard, a text message or phone call… you can even do it anonymously if you like (not the phone call, that would be creepy). Pass on that sense of gratitude to others, and help make the world a more positive place.

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