I often discuss the value of gratitude with my peer group, and for good reason. The practice of cultivating gratitude regularly has helped to enhance peace of mind for many. Personally, gratitude has helped me to acknowledge the subtle pleasures in life, and gives me a brighter perspective on what otherwise could be considered mundane routines. Emotionally speaking, gratitude has been known to bring a sense of clarity, joy and deep appreciation for life. Many of the wisdom traditions recommend applying gratitude, as do modern-day psychologists.
While seeking to improve one’s material life can be healthy, too much emphasis being placed on the things we are lacking can lead to dissatisfaction, resentment and often jealousy of our peers. In an often precarious world dominated by consumerism and individualism, it is increasingly important to recognise how an attitude of gratitude can be incredibly beneficial to our emotional health.
Furthermore, sincere gratitude can ignite those golden and unexpected moments of transcendence. There are all sorts of transcending moments we can reflect upon and appreciate. Perhaps it was reading a beautiful piece of poetry, listening to a wonderful piece of music or being transfixed by a breathtaking sunrise. Such experiences can activate moments of reverence in our hearts and mind.
As a Brit, I have come to respect that our friends across the pond dedicate one day a year (a national holiday) to being thankful and appreciating the good. Although I was aware of Thanksgiving in my childhood, I first experienced the American holiday in November 2005 in Los Angeles. My friends and I decided to go to a local restaurant to celebrate the occasion. The weather was warm and mild, and there was calm in the South Bay. The Thanksgiving celebrations were very low key and mellow, but you could certainly feel a collective appreciation for the present moment.
It was the US President, JF Kennedy, who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” When we are regularly acknowledging the things we appreciate, by expressing our gratitude through our actions, we often expand our lives and the lives of others. It is important to point out, however, that we may not always “feel” grateful, but we can certainly learn to “act” grateful. In other words, we can make a decision that we are going to gradually develop a steady attitude that is motivated by appreciation and thankfulness, irrespective of the vicissitudes of everyday living.
Here are three tools to amplify an attitude of gratitude:
1) According to Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. writing regularly in a gratitude journal helps us to focus on the good things in our lives and can gradually change our mindset. “If you want to gain a health benefit from gratitude, you may need to persist with the diaries for two or three months. This practice takes only 5 or 10 minutes a day, but when done cumulatively, seems to reorient your mental compass towards focusing on the positive.”
2) Ask someone to join you regularly with respect to reflecting on the things you both appreciate. There is something very powerful about the act of two or three people regularly outreaching and sharing thankfulness. You may hear something being said that deepens your own appreciation.
3) Put some time aside to sit quietly and think about all of the good things in your life. You may find visualisation quite helpful. Sometimes seeing the good you have in your mind can shield you from unkind beliefs about yourself. After all, the more you focus on what you have, the more likely you are to feel peaceful. After you have visualised the gifts in your life, take action and begin to see how you can be of service to others (in a way that feels right for you).
Christopher Dines’ new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours co-authored with Dr. Barbara Mariposa is out now.