In the here and now, it's rare to hear a thank you. I mean, a real thank you. Sure, we say "thank you" all the time when someone holds a door for us or when a server brings us our food. We tell our families what we're thankful for on Thanksgiving (Netflix? Ben & Jerry's?). But is this really gratitude? Gratitude is much more than feeling thankful. It's a whole attitude! Feeling grateful means appreciating the little things that others do to make us happy, and giving back. Or, as the great movie of 2000 popularized, paying it forward..
Being grateful isn't just a state of mind either, but it's actually part of a new field of psychology called "Positive Psychology." Positive Psychology focuses on the aspects of people's lives that help them to thrive rather than flounder. Whereas psychology in general focuses on disorders and illnesses, positive psychology is a proactive concept that focuses on maintaining mental health.
One of the primary ways to maintain health is to feel comfortable with oneself. In a world increasingly filled with pressures and judgment, it can be difficult to filter out the negativity. Just think about a typical reality show. We laugh at the ridiculous behaviors we see on TV with no sympathy for how people would react to our comments. We talk behind friends' backs, are exclusive, and put ourselves before others.
So how can we combat our innate selfishness and take a nod towards positive thinking? A simple solution lies in gratitude. One of the founding advocates of positive psychology is Martin Seligman, who says, "Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them." So not only does gratitude benefit our personal satisfaction, but it also helps build stronger bonds with the people we love. Gratitude is contagious. These gratitude exercises are designed to help keep us in a positive state of mind. They can help us refocus and prioritize what's important in our lives in order to block out the negative energy bringing us down.
Journaling is a foolproof way of being in touch with our deepest emotions and feelings. You don't have to write a memoir on your life. Focus on three to five things each day that you are grateful for, and list them. Beside each item, write a short explanation of why you are grateful. Even on bad days, there is always good that can come out of them if we are attuned to the positive. Think of it as living life in a major key. Studies suggest that journaling has a variety of other health benefits too, including strengthening immune cells. Journaling allows us to get down our thoughts in a nonjudgmental environment. No one has to read your journal but you. You shouldn't be ashamed at the things that you're grateful for. Even if it's as small as the smell of springtime flowers wafting across the park. Sometimes, the smaller the better. If you're really stuck, think big. Think about the people you love, or your health, or your aspirations. Be thankful that you have dreams yet to accomplish.
According to Seligman's concept of PERMA, the only things we need in our lives to be happy are Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. Positive Emotion involves shutting out negative energy and thinking optimistically. Engagement requires a conscious attention given to daily activities. Relationships are about fostering connections. Meaning is assigning power to your thoughts and actions, believing that they will contribute to something greater. Accomplishments are keeping in mind the goals that power you through. When journaling, always think back to PERMA. Are you keeping up with all these aspects of happiness? What's lacking? Where can you improve and where have you succeeded? The most important thing to remember is that happiness is always a work in progress. If you're not there yet, don't worry! That's why you're doing these exercises in the first place.
Thank You Letters
The next step in expressing gratitude is letting your loved ones know how much they mean to you. A great way to do this is through Thank You letters. They don't have to be long or sappy by any means. Just thoughtful. Think of the top five to ten people that have had a positive influence over your life, or that have helped you through some hardship. Summarize what they did for you and how it helped you. Have they inspired anything in you? Can you pay it forward in any way? Of course, letting people read these letters is the goal, but the very act of writing them allows you to get out the emotion on the first level.
Not good at writing? Get creative! A thank you can be any gesture that shows your appreciation. A song, meal, or day shopping can get across the same meaning. These letters or actions will even transcend you and your loved one. They're a sure way to inspire gratitude year-round! Giving thanks makes you sleep better and improves your physical health and self-esteem. You'll be less stressed and therefore have a lower risk of stress-related illness. Being free with your emotions will allow you to feel more confident and you may take greater risks in the workplace or at home, going further than you ever imagined.
Now here's the simplest way to start thinking about being thankful. Give people compliments. Compliments, when given in earnest, can be a perfect way to start a conversation with someone new, or break the ice. When looking back to the PERMA model, Relationships are not just with people we already know, but potential new positive forces in our lives. Get that positive energy flowing! Often, a compliment has more power than you think it does. It has the power to make someone's day.
When it comes to almost any issue of well-being, meditation is the up-and-coming alternative solution to medication and therapy. While the field is still new and not fully supported in the medical community, meditation has undeniable physical and mental benefits that don't need science to confirm. In particular, mindfulness meditation focuses on maintaining consciousness in a world increasingly encouraging of cruise control. Try an exercise as simple as this, which only requires a pack of raisins. Take a raisin and focus on seeing it. Take in everything you can about its physical appearance. Then hold it, noting the sensations, place it in your mouth, then chew it, swallow it. Do this all very slowly, keeping in mind all the things you notice about the raisin. You'll want to apply this exercise to any other situation. Examine it from all angles and with all senses. Being more aware of situations will help you feel greater gratitude for all the little things.
Feeling more like yourself? These gratitude exercises are just a starting off point for you. Incorporate them into your daily life to see lasting results of a more positive attitude! You'll feel more willing and capable to appreciate everything in your life and inspire others to do the same.