The Science Behind Gratitude
Research indicates that practicing gratitude is linked to improved mental and physical health. Grateful individuals report lower levels of stress and depression. They also cope better with life’s challenges and experience higher levels of satisfaction. When asked to reflect on positive experiences, people become more optimistic, feel better about their lives, and even visit physicians less frequently.
Delving into the philosophical roots of gratitude, the wisdom of Aristotle becomes apparent. He argued that we become what we habitually do. This means that by incorporating gratitude into our daily lives, we can reshape ourselves into more thankful individuals. This doesn’t mean ignoring life’s challenges but rather focusing on the good things, fostering a mindset of abundance.
Gratitude is deeply embedded in various religious traditions. In Judaism, the morning prayer begins with expressions of thanks. Christianity emphasizes gratitude as a vital aspect of life, with Jesus giving thanks before his last meal. Islam enumerates the blessings bestowed upon humans and emphasizes the importance of thankfulness. Other traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, also stress the role of thankfulness in cultivating virtues and combating negative emotions.
Even in Suffering, Gratitude Emerges
A poignant example comes from Reynolds Price, a professor who battled a spinal cord tumor. Despite his physical challenges, Price experienced a profound sense of gratitude, describing it as a “stunned beatitude.” A brush with mortality can awaken a deep appreciation for life, fostering a commitment to celebrating each day.
How to Practice Gratitude Daily
Now that we understand the significance of gratitude from many angles, here are some ways we can practice it in both our personal and professional lives.
1. Avoid comparisons
It’s not uncommon to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. True gratitude lies in recognizing the shared blessings we all have. Don’t compare your personal life to others and get caught up in chasing material possessions. Don’t compare your career and job position to others either. Find appreciation for where you are at and what you specifically have without comparing.
2. Create a routine
Develop a habit of appreciation into your daily routine. Regular expressions of thanks can set a positive tone for the day or week. Whether in the morning, during meals, or before bed, have a set time that you practice gratitude. It could be going around the dinner table as a family and saying one thing everyone was grateful for that day. At work, build in time for gratitude during one-on-ones or team meetings.
3. Write thank you notes
There was an experiment that asked participants to write and deliver thank you notes. The result was major increases in reported levels of happiness that lasted for an entire month. It may seem like a simple act, the impact is profound. Write notes of appreciation for people you care about – your partner, kids, friends, parents, etc. It doesn’t have to be long, just thoughtful. Frequently thank your peers, direct reports, and manager whether it’s with a handwritten note or a digital eCard.
As backed by scientific evidence and rooted in philosophy and religion, gratitude emerges as a transformative force. It’s capable of enhancing our overall well-being. By making gratitude a habit, we not only become happier, but also contribute to a more positive and compassionate world.