“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
– William Arthur Ward
The holidays are here and while it is easy to get consumed in all the hectic planning, shopping, and cooking, it is also easy to forget the true reason for the season – gratitude.
Last month, we shared five tips for instilling gratitude in your student, and as parents and educators, our actions are the biggest influences on our children. We surely can’t inspire gratitude until we ourselves learn how to show appreciation for the blessings in our lives.
The Three Stages of Gratitude
Unfortunately, as humans, we aren’t hardwired to be grateful. Like any skill worth having, gratitude requires practice. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, psychologist and author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, there are three stages of gratitude:
- Recognizing what we’re grateful for
- Acknowledging it
- Appreciating it
Practicing Gratitude Leads to A Better You
The benefits of practicing gratitude can be life-altering. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience the following:
- more positive emotions
- better sleep
- better personal and professional relationships
- express more compassion and kindness
- improved health
Acknowledge the Little Things In Life
Gratitude doesn’t need to be reserved only for momentous occasions. It’s great to express gratitude or excitement for achieving a personal or work goal, but you can also express gratitude for the simple things in life that go unnoticed (home, food, family, etc.).
Research from Dr. Emmons shows that something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal – regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful – can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction without monopolizing your time. And the benefits of this simple exercise can be long-lasting.
Train Your Brain to Be More Positive
Just five minutes daily is all it takes to rewire your brain and unleash everything great in your life. By practicing awareness of the positive things in life, we fight off the brain’s natural tendency to scan for and spot the negatives. As a result, we train our brains to be more positive and thus happier.
When you reflect on something happy, your brain relives that good feeling. And when you focus repeatedly on something that feels good, your brain rewires itself to do that more effortlessly in the future.
It takes about three weeks to start a new habit. When a behavior is repeated enough, the synaptic pathways in our brains tied to that behavior get used to being accessed. As a result, it becomes easier for impulses to travel along those pathways, and the behavior seems natural.
Gratitude Has Gone Digital
Gratitude has even gone digital in today’s tech-driven world, with numerous websites and apps specializing in appreciation. Happify is a website that allows you to publicly post what you are grateful for and also offers a private online gratitude journal.
Gratitude Journal and Gratitude Plus are both apps that encourage you to write at least five good things daily, add photos, and rate your day. Red Stamp sends personalized cards and notes via email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or good old-fashioned paper mail.
“You can live a happier, healthier life just by being grateful. Because gratitude is a virtue, it requires mental discipline. Learning any virtue is not an easy task, but gratitude’s remarkable benefits make it worth the effort because it heals, energizes, and transforms lives. Gratitude is not a characteristic people are either born with or without; it’s learned through practice. You have the opportunity to wake up and be grateful, to say thank you to everyone and everything and feel gratitude toward the hard situations you’ve endured, giving you the chance to learn and grow. Gratitude matters for happiness…and it should be a lifestyle.”
-Dr. Robert Emmons
Strengthen Your Attitude of Gratitude
Still looking for ways to strengthen your attitude of gratitude? Consider the following tips to implement in your daily routine:
- Notice your day-to-day world from a point of gratitude and be amazed at all the goodness we take for granted.
- If you identify someone or something with a negative trait (ex. a cold classroom), switch it in your mind to a positive trait (e.g. a well-decorated classroom).
- Give at least one compliment daily. It can be to a person or it can be asking someone to share your appreciation of something else (“I love how quiet it is in the morning, don’t you?”).
- When you find yourself in a bad situation ask, “What can I learn? When I look back on this, without emotion, what will I be grateful for?”
- Vow to not complain, criticize, or gossip for 10 days. If you slip, rally your willpower and keep going. Notice the amount of energy you were spending on negative thoughts and actions.
Sources include Berkeley.edu, Happify.com, New York Times, Unstuck.com