I’m Scottish and so was born with cynicism in my bones and I’ve got to be honest, I definitely found all this positivity & happiness malarkey a bit cheesy to begin with. Gratitude used to bring up images of white american cheerleaders with enormous smiles and fake tan. But I gritted my teeth and actually tried it…and holy moly, this shizzle works!
The positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky has identified 8 evidence based ways that gratitude will boost your happiness and I’d love to share these with you.
First of all though let’s clarify what an attitude of gratitude actually is. We often think of being grateful or thankful in relation to receiving a gift or some kind of benefit yet it’s much more than that, it’s feeling a deep sense of appreciation for life.
So how does this actually boost our happiness?
Feeling thankful encourages us to savour positive experiences. And through the simple act of slowing down our actions we maximise they potential to squeeze more joy and satisfaction from each moment.
Truly appreciating the small and big things in our lives boosts ourself worth and self esteem. We notice how much people have done for us and how much you have actually achieved. We so often focus on what we DON’T have and what is wrong with situations that we are oblivious to what IS working and supporting us. Practicing gratitude helps us to unlearn this habit of focusing on lack and create a happiness habit that serves us.
Gratitude helps us cope better with stress and trauma. It’s true that we get more of what we focus on and when we are experiencing a difficult time that is absolutely real to us yet life is STILL happening around us. The good stuff that was there yesterday is still there….it’s just we are so immersed in now that we don’t aware of it. Gratitude provides an adaptive coping method where we focus on the elements of the stressful negative events that actually support us, finding the silver lining isn’t disrespecting the intensity or imapct of the event, it’s a method of survival that pays dividends in the long run. People instinctively express gratitude when faced with extreme adversity, think of how communities have come together after tragic events. Interestingly, traumatic memories are also less likely to surface and are less intense in those who regularly practice gratitude
Adopting an attitude of gratitude also encourages pro social behaviour where we are more likely to help others, become aware of acts of kindness and feel drawn to do the same. We are less inclined to be materialistic and through being less fixated on gathering more ‘stuff’ you’re becoming increasingly aware of the stuff that REALLY matters.
Gratitude builds social bonds strengthens existing ones and nurtures new ones. People who feel gratitude for people in their lives, even when they don’t directly express it, report higher quality of relationships with them. When you truly appreciate the people in your life the energy we have around them is good isn’t it? Which means we treat them better…and their response to us improves, creating an upward spiral. Plus, a grateful person is a more positive person…and positive people are better liked and so the relationship boosting spiral continues.
Comparing ourselves to others can be painful can’t it? And slightly bonkers when you think about it as the only thing that really matters is what’s important to YOU and how you make that happen is as unique as you are…there is no point in judging ourselves with other peoples standard. And when we are genuinely appreciative for all that we have we are far less likely to fall into envying what others have and social comparison.
Psychiatrists have found that gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may even diminish emotions such as anger, greed, bitterness and guilt. It’s all about being in the moment… and we can’t be in 2 places at once.
We adapt to pretty much everything we encounter. Yes, we get joy from new things and experiences…a new job, pay rise, house, relationship, toy. This hedonic adaptation where we get used to good stuff and the initial boost fades is part of our wiring but gratitude prevents us adapting to our positive life circumstances and as a result continue to get that feel good factor.
Adopting an attitude of gratitude is genuinely really easy…when you take off your cynical socks and really look at what has and is going well for you.
My favourite way of recording my gratitudes is in my success diary – you can download a playbook that explains this in more detail here. And in the Kick Ass Mama Bears facebook group we have weekly prompts to reflect on what you are grateful for…feel free to join us there.