By Kiarma Webster, MSW, LCSW
“Happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” - Denis Waitley
Everybody knows THAT PERSON. That person who always seems happy and peaceful. That person who never seems stressed or down. That person who always greets us with a smile and sincerely seems pleased to see us. That person can usually be counted on to uplift our spirits when we feel discouraged or frustrated. That person may be your coworker, neighbor, friend or (if you are lucky) a family member. Did you ever wonder how THAT PERSON does it? Don’t they ever get angry, depressed or fed up? Where does all that joy come from?
The secret is…..GRATITUDE. Gratitude is the key to improving our emotions, career, relationships, personality, even our health. Adopting an attitude of gratitude can change our lives and make us THAT PERSON.
What is gratitude? Gratitude is thankfulness for the things of life. It is a way of living in the moment and embracing all of beauty, love, richness and abundance in our lives.
Gratitude transforms our emotions. Having a perspective of gratitude helps us feel good. When we focus on the positive things in the present, we feel more relaxed and peaceful. When we think about the good things in our lives and memories of happy past experiences, we feel more content and less envious of others. When we reflect upon past trials and challenges we have overcome, we become more resilient and we feel more capable.
Gratitude can improve our work life. Worrying and negative thoughts take a great deal of mental energy. People who spend less time worrying are more productive, make better decisions and are more likely to achieve their goals. Rather than falling into a habit of negativity, focus on what works well at work. Think about changes that have made your job easier or more productive. Consider what procedures and processes work well in your department. In what ways does working enrich your life? How does the work you do improve the lives of others? Additionally, expressing our appreciation of our coworkers helps us to build and improve our work relationships.
Gratitude improves relationships. Gratitude not only improves work relationships, it can improve our personal relationships. It helps you make friends. People are drawn to those who exude a positive energy and appear to be enjoying life. When you explain to a person what you appreciate about them, it can build trust and closeness. It can transform difficult relationships. Practicing gratitude improves our romantic relationships. Expressing gratitude helps those around you feel loved, accepted and cared for.
Gratitude changes our personality. We are all working to become better versions of ourselves. Gratitude can help in that regard as well. Instead of focusing on material things they do not have, grateful people appreciate the material items they do have, and celebrate the value of non-material things. Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between optimism and gratitude. When we focus on the richness and gifts found in our everyday experiences, we become less self-focused. Because gratitude helps us feel more capable, it also increases our self-esteem. Gratitude is a magnet for joy. The more you focus on the things you love and appreciate about your life, the more things you will find to love. The more you love, the happier you become.
So, how do we incorporate gratitude into our lives? Constantly notice and enjoy things around you, no matter how small they are. Express appreciation for life as it unfolds. View life though a lens of positive grace and negative grace. With positive grace we appreciate all of the wonderful things in our lives. (Think: “I am so grateful for….”) Using negative grace, we appreciate that we don’t have all of the bad things that could occur. (Think: “Things could always be worse…….”)
It’s much easier to be grateful for the positive things in life, but we must also embrace challenges. Strive to understand, learn from and accept the reality of trials and difficulties. Gratitude is a constant celebration of the fullness of life.
Ready to get started? Here are some activities that are easy to make into happy, healthy habits.
Collect and store happy memories. What makes you smile? Did you hear about something wonderful lately? Did you see something that touched your heart? Don’t forget about that joke, story, image or tidbit. Make an effort to remember that memory and the original feeling.
In the middle of your day, before you grab your afternoon snack, or while you are in line at the bank or stuck in traffic, bring that happy memory to mind and enjoy it. Allow yourself to smile and experience the joy of the original happy moment.
Gratitude journal. Make a practice of taking five minutes at the beginning or end of each day to list things that you are grateful for. For those of you who love technology, there are several excellent gratitude apps for your phone or tablet that are fun and easy to use.
Gratitude partner. Call or text a friend daily and each of you share one thing you are grateful for. Another twist: Every day choose one person in your life who you are grateful for, contact them and tell them why you are grateful for them.
Gratitude and gifts. Next time you give someone a gift (birthday, graduation, etc.) or a greeting card, include a personal message of gratitude. Try one of these statements. “Your friendship has made a difference in my life because……” “My favorite thing about you is…..” “What I love about you…..”
When you commit to the practice of gratitude, you will gradually notice your emotions, your work life, your relationships and your personality change.