Having Gratitude

One reason we remain unhappy is because we don’t feel grateful for what we have. We worry about what we don’t have, and we spend our entire lives seeking happiness and forget that the purpose of life is not to find happiness, but to create it. Dan Gilbert at Harvard calls it synthetic happiness. It’s what we make when we don’t get what we want. We need to look for reasons to be happy. We need to default to the positive in everyday situations, and we need to accept things or change them. Either way, complaining about them won’t help our cause.

As the saying goes (and I paraphrase):

If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.

We complain so much of the time that we forget to be grateful for things and people in our lives. We complain about what we don’t have rather than being grateful about what we do have. We often take things for granted, be it for the things we have or the relationships in our lives. Then, of course, we learn the hard way about the true value of those things only when they leave us or distance us from them, even if for a short while.

Being grateful about what we have in our lives shouldn’t be a once-in-a-year thing. It should be an every day and every week thing.

We don’t have to wait every year for Thanksgiving to be thankful for our lives. We can do it every day, and here are some reasons why:

  • We are happier (and healthier) because of it.
  • We also exercise more, feel less stressed, have fewer visits to the doctor, and we tend to sleep better.
  • We tend to complain less.
  • We feel more optimistic about things in general.
  • We are more generous and compassionate with others as a result of being grateful.
  • We build stronger immune systems for our bodies in order to build strong relationships and to deal with adversity.

Overall, we feel happier, joyful, and optimistic because of it.

There is greater correlation between gratitude and happiness. Likewise, there is greater inverse correlation between gratitude and depression. In other words, the more grateful we are, the less depressed we’ll be.

Being grateful is the antidote to many things — relieving stress, managing our emotions, staying happier, living joyfully and without regrets, and overall, being more at peace with ourselves and experiencing more satisfaction and fulfillment.

When we are grateful, we see the world differently (positively) than we would have otherwise. We need to look for reasons to be happy instead of complaining and criticizing others.

Everyone likes to be appreciated, but no one does it. Gratitude works when we are grateful for something real, like being grateful for things we actually feel grateful for. It’s not about living in denial.

There are many ways to be grateful about our lives, but here are a few suggestions. Every morning, spend some time to write a few words about what you’re grateful for. Think about your family, your friends, your customers/colleagues, your staff, and things or experiences you’ve had in the recent past. You can be thankful for the day you’re given today, and, in fact, simply being alive is something you should be grateful for. You can be thankful for good health or the great work you do using your skills, interests, and hard work (quite often the trifecta of great work).

Be grateful for what you have, and not what you don’t. Write a letter of gratitude to a loved one. Keep a gratitude journal, which is based on positive psychology research. Always focus on the good things (the positives) without emphasizing the negatives. Celebrate things that you’ve accomplished each day, not things you have yet to accomplish, and focus on the daily small wins. I wrote about this in my draft on making meaningful progress. You can also use tools to keep track of your (and your team’s) work in order to visualize your progress.

Here are some everyday examples that I can think of. Showing our gratitude and appreciation doesn’t always have to be a big thing. In fact, more often than not, it’s better when we express our gratitude for the little things. For instance, when someone holds the door (or the elevator) for you, thank them. I know this sounds so obvious, but I am sure this is something we could do more of. Remember, we are more likely to do things that we learn from those we spend the most time with. If you choose to surround yourself with happier, giving, and appreciative people, that will also rub onto you. To a bigger point, when someone does something for us, it’s a great way for us to acknowledge their kind gesture by thanking them. The additional benefit is when we express our gratitude by thanking others (appropriately) for what they did for us, they are more likely to do those things for us in the future.

When we focus on what’s right about our life and feel grateful, we are much happier than those who focus on what’s wrong with their life.

Every day, thank one person. This has to be genuine. It can be a friend, family member, spouse, or colleague. Not only will it lift both yours and their morale, but it will also bring you closer to each other so you can live and work better together.

When we express gratitude in our close relationships, not only do we feel more positive toward them, but it also helps us get more comfortable with sharing our concerns with them.

We can pray to cultivate gratitude. We can also practice mindfulness meditation to focus on what we are grateful for. We can even give (inexpensive) gifts as a way to express our gratitude; it’s the thought that counts, not the price tag.

When it comes to getting feedback from those you trust, always say thank you without getting defensive, providing excuses, or justifying for your actions. Just say thank you.

Expressing gratitude is what we do as part of who we are, not necessarily another thing that we do. It’s what you do when you win an Academy Award. Yes, you got the award, but you couldn’t have done it without the immeasurable support of others, right?!

Here are some ways we can teach our children to be more grateful. Ask them at the end of the day to describe the best part of their day. What are the three good things that happened today? What are they thankful for today? In fact, they could do this as part of their daily journal.

Let’s not take things for granted. Let’s be grateful for what we have while we pursue all we want. Sure, there are plenty of things we can complain about. Or, we can choose to focus on the positives. We can either look at ourselves with despair, or we can look at our lives proactively. That is our choice. Happiness is a choice we make every day, not some destination we arrive at in the future.

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