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I read recently that we say ‘thank you’ on average 5000 times a year. That’s over 13 times a day. If you say thank you 13 times a day, how often do you really mean it? How often do you consciously reflect on what it is you are thankful for and why? Or is it just an automatic reaction? The polite response?
Science has learnt a lot about the benefits of being truly and consciously thankful. In fact, positive psychology research tells us that being thankful is strongly associated with greater health, wellbeing and happiness. Yes, the more grateful you are the happier and healthier you are likely to be.
So what do we mean by thankfulness?
At its simplest it’s expressing appreciation – for what we have, for what others do for us and for the world around us. It is acknowledging acts of kindness, the people in our life, beauty, gifts of the material and non-material kind and sometimes even the difficulties we experience.
It is gratitude for what love and life brings and it’s recognising that these largely come from outside ourselves; our family, our health, the support and assistance of friends, good food, sunshine, pets, warmth, shelter and opportunity. Gratitude is a social emotion that brings with it stronger relationships with others and with the world around us.
GRATITUDE TAKES PRACTICE
Being consciously and regularly thankful is a skill and a habit. It comes naturally for some but for most of us it takes practice. Here are some ways to develop the thankfulness habit.
If we open our eyes and minds to the world around us there are so many things for which to be thankful. Mindfulness requires us to stop what we’re doing and be conscious of this moment, right now. Stop thinking and planning and judging. Stop worrying. Stop all automatic thought and behaviour and notice what is around you right now. Listen to sounds. Feel the air on your skin. Look around and observe what is here, right now. The sights, the sounds, the people, your body and your emotions. Identify three things that you are grateful for right at this very moment. Practice this daily.
REFLECT AT THE END OF THE DAY
Instead of keeping a journal of what has happened each day, give it a twist and make a note at night of what you are thankful for each day. What has happened today that has made your day a little happier? A little sunnier? Did you find the perfect parking spot? Enjoy some sunshine in the morning? Did someone help you out? Was a problem solved or a difficult situation overcome? Replay your day and find your little moments of gratitude. The research tells us that after a few weeks of a regular gratitude routine we tend to feel better about ourselves, we’re more alert and we have more energy. Try it and see if it works for you.
BE SPECIFIC AND LOOK FOR SOMETHING NEW
There are some things for which you are probably grateful every day and that never changes. Your family and loved ones, maybe your health, maybe your job, your freedom or your good fortune. Regular thanks for these gifts is vital but if you’re starting to develop the gratitude habit it can be hard to maintain momentum if we’re thankful for the same things every day.
To keep your gratitude habit fresh, try looking for something new. Set yourself a challenge to be thankful for something different every day for a week or maybe a month? It doesn’t matter what it is or how inconsequential it seems. Be grateful for three minutes of quiet and solitude in the day, for your partner bringing the bins in or the vivid colour of the flowers that have bloomed in the garden. Be specific and make a record of it each day. This is a great way to kick start your gratitude habit.
SHARE IT AROUND
If you’re comfortable with it, share your thanks with others. Some families like to share their gratitude over dinner, each taking it in turns to reflect on what they were thankful for that day. Sharing your gratitude is a great way to reinforce it and starting your kids early will get them into the gratitude habit for life.
What thankfulness will do for you?
- You will feel more positive, more of the time. There is plenty of evidence now that practising gratitude (and it does involve practice) increases your experience of a range of positive emotions and happy feelings including optimism, joy, pleasure and enthusiasm.
- You will get more from good experiences. When you stop and savour the fun times you magnify those good feelings and what feels good gets better. You’re more likely to remember and reflect on them more frequently too.
- You will build stronger relationships. Thanking other people builds warm feelings towards them. It helps us to feel closer and more committed to the other people in our lives and the research says we’re more satisfied with our relationships when we say thanks to each other.
- You will sleep better. Did you know that a little bit of gratitude can improve your sleep? Grateful people get to sleep more easily, are less likely to wake during the night and feel more refreshed the following day.
- You will cope better with life’s challenges. Life presents us all with tough times. Those of us who are regularly more thankful, even for those difficulties, bounce back faster and learn and grow from the experience.
Next time you find yourself saying a quick ‘thanks’ stop and think about your thankfulness. Soak it in, just for a moment, and I’ll bet that you’ll feel a little bit happier.