How you can practise the art of being grateful
Being grateful yields powerful benefits. Clinical Psychologist Chantal Hofstee explains how to reap the rewards of an attitude of gratitude.
We all have our share of troubles, but it’s probably safe to say we also have plenty to be grateful for. Yet it’s so easy to overlook those things or take them for granted. Being grateful is a skill – not a talent – and so it can be practised like any other skill. Sure, some of us are the ‘glass-half-full’ types, whilst others lean toward being ‘glass-half-empty’ kinds of people, but anyone can learn how to redirect their attention from the negative to the positive and to count their blessings. You might be surprised to find there are far-reaching mental health and happiness benefits to practising this simple skill.
According to research by Dr Robert Emmons, keeping a gratitude journal results in improved alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Research subjects who kept a daily gratitude journal experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more consistently and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals. Dr Emmons’ research also shows that those who practise an attitude of gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system and have stronger relationships than those who don’t practise gratitude. Looking at all the benefits, it isn’t hard to see how being grateful helps with mental health and happiness.
A COUNTER-CULTURAL GRACE
Why is it so hard to cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Being grateful isn’t a big part of Western culture, which is very focused on achieving goals, productivity and consumerism. Grateful and content people don’t make great customers so media and advertisers purposefully feed us never-ending messages about what we ‘need’. Also, gratitude is an essential part of religious observance: many people used to regularly thank God for their blessings, but this practice is becoming less common.
The way the world is developing is not conducive to cultivating an attitude of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use this simple and powerful practice to boost our happiness, wellbeing and mental health.
1. Today I am so grateful and thankful that…
Say or write down three things you are grateful for. I always encourage people to not just focus on the big things, but to pay special attention to the small things too. It’s also a good idea to focus on the positive rather than the absence of something negative.
“Today I am so grateful and thankful that…
✔ I was woken up at a reasonable time.”
✔ I found the pot plant I was looking for.”
✔ My husband is cooking a steak dinner tonight.”
2. Reframing thoughts or words from “I have to or need to do X…” to ‘I get to do X…”
✔ “I have to take the kids to school” becomes “I get to take the kids to school.”
✔ “I have to go to work” becomes “I get to go to work.”
✔ “I need to shop for food” becomes “I get to shop for food.”
3. Don’t just focus on what needs to change, but also on what is going well by using the I like/I wish format in your conversations.
✔ Me to my son: “I really like that you did your job without me having to ask, but I wish you would put the cutlery in the right sections, that way the forks, knives and spoons don’t get all mixed up.”
✔ Me to my daughter: “I love your paintings, but I wish you would take your new jacket off before you do painting so it stays nice and clean.”
✔ Me to my husband: “It’s great that you’re fixing all these things around the house, but I wish you would put your tools away when you finish for the day so I don’t feel like I’m sleeping on a building site.”
Chantal Hofstee is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and a very grateful mum of three little ones. She is also the author of Renew Your Mind and Reach Your Goals Without Stressing Out. Find out more at renewyourmind.co.nz.
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