Many positive psychology researchers have been investigating the science of gratitude and how engaging in gratitude activities can enhance happiness. Having gratitude means different things to everyone. It is about: being able to appreciate what you have and what you are thankful for; having an awareness of the good things in your life and not taking them for granted; experiencing a feeling of joy that comes from savoring the present moment; enjoying the beauties, pleasures, and wonders of life; and recognizing the people, places, personal attributes and circumstances that have positively impacted your life. Gratitude can even come from looking at the upside of a setback. Interestingly, despite what we know about happiness and well-being, our culture is very focused on milling over what we want or don’t have. Whether it’s desiring a bigger house or a new car, a better relationship with one’s spouse or children, or a more fulfilling career, we often tend to see our cup as half empty. If this describes how you tend to view your circumstances, (and many of us do) it is entirely possible to shift your mindset to an attitude of gratitude. You can do a number of different activities and exercises to help you develop and cultivate your feelings of gratitude.
Some may consider counting their blessings or taking time to express gratitude for what is going well in their life to be associated with spirituality or religion. While many religions and spiritual practices embrace the expression of gratitude, it is a practice that should not be reserved solely for this purpose. It is only in recent years, that positive psychologists have conducted scientific research on gratitude . Psychologists Emmons and McCullough have studied how the practice of gratitude has been associated with increased positive emotion and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Having an appreciative mindset can not only increase your feelings of well-being and happiness but it can lead to increased energy, benevolence, and optimism and reduce bad memories or negative feelings. After all, it is hard to feel lonely, sad, resentful, or mad while simultaneously feeling grateful for one’s good health or an affectionate spouse. Increased awareness of the good things and people in your life amplifies them so you come to see the world differently. Nothing has changed, just your attitude. Troublesome thoughts pop up less frequently and with less intensity, which suggests that gratitude may enhance emotional healing. Grateful people achieve closure by making sense of negative events and valuing what they have in life and they are then thankful that things aren’t worse. Feeling grateful is the ultimate coping skill for dealing with stressful life events.
Have you ever noticed how you feel after something good happens in your life? Most people will naturally feel happier. Then after some time – hours, days, maybe weeks – what happens? We adapt to it, and eventually return to our “starting level” of happiness. We constantly seek new pleasures, rewards, people, and objects to keep up our happiness levels. As you can imagine, it is a losing battle – we are trying to fill a bottomless pit. The good news is being grateful for the good things in our lives can counteract this adaptation. In other words, if we are grateful for what we have, we don’t adapt as much, and we don’t take our circumstances for granted. We can savor and enjoy what we have instead of constantly looking for more.
Have a case of the Jones’s? We often find ourselves making comparisons to our friends, coworkers and neighbors and subsequently finding ourselves coming up short. Others seem to have nicer cars, better behaved children, more attentive spouses, better friends, and the list goes on and on. When we are thankful for what we have, we are much less likely to make these comparisons and want what others have. In fact, gratitude tends to improve our relationships and help forge new ones. When we reflect on the value of the family and friends in our life, we tend to treat them better. They in turn, begin to feel more positively about us and the bonds become strengthened. We attract new friendships as well, because grateful people tend to be more positive, and people are attracted to those who are generate a positive outlook.