Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude
A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a dinner gathering in our home for women who were attending the Paths to Healing Retreat sponsored by the Foundation for Living Beauty.
As we shared our Kinship wines during dinner, we discussed ways in which cultivating an attitude of gratitude can be expressed in different ways--hugs, hand holding, massages, giving to and serving others, spending quality time in caring relationships and also sharing supportive words of thankfulness.
My husband Jess also shared how, in his role as a spiritual counselor, he has discovered how being thankful does great things for our mental well being. Among other things, it lowers depression, self deprecation and increases optimism, passion, purpose, self-esteem and life satisfaction!
Those who cultivate gratefulness, tend to have lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). As a result, they are able to adjust better to personal difficulties in life.
Jess shared how a couple of year’s ago, he discovered that at UC Davis not only do they have an excellent enology (winemaking--his passion) program, but that they also have a world expert on the topic of gratitude in their Psychology department. His name is Robert Emmons. In his research*, he found that there is a strong link between cultivating and nurturing a spirit of gratitude and living a more satisfied life.
Emmons found that people who count their blessings in daily gratitude journals exercise more regularly and feel better about their lives. Compared with those who dwell on daily disappointments, people who take time to record their reasons for giving thanks find themselves feeling more loving, forgiving, joyful, enthusiastic and optimistic. Their family and friends also report that they seem happier and are more pleasant to be around
In a research study, Emmons assigned one group of students to write down five things they were thankful for each day and another group to record five complaints. The grateful students reported measurable improvements in psychological, physical and social well-being compared with their complaining classmates. "We always find the same thing," he says. "People who keep gratitude journals improve their quality of life."
Emmons discovered that far from being a warm and fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding. It requires contemplation, reflection and discipline. It can be hard and painful work.
Here are some suggestions for cultivating an attitude of gratitude:
Keep a gratitude journal daily. Write down what you are grateful for and then look back on the journal from time to time. Write down as many things you can think of. Try to fill up two pages a day.
Speak out loud what you are grateful for, even if no one is around to hear.
It’s ok to remember your struggles. Remembering your struggles can make you more grateful for your health, your relationships and your successes.
Learn prayers of gratitude and positive affirmations.
Embrace your spirituality. According to Emmons, gratitude does not require religious faith, but faith enhances the ability to be grateful. People who regularly attend religious services, pray and read religious material are more likely to be grateful.
Appreciate your senses.
Practice mindfulness. Take time to be aware of the present moment and be grateful for the serenity of the now. Each moment is a gift.
Use visual reminders. In my office I have plaques that states "Every One Has a Story to Tell" and "Live in Your Strengths". These remind me of my joys in life as well as my struggles, especially of a cancer diagnosis, and how I have overcome them.
Commit to practice gratitude. Realize it may take several weeks to get into the habit and acknowledge your successes along the way.
Look for opportunities and situations in which to feel grateful, especially when things are not going well.
- Volunteer and be connected to your community. Emmons' research found that grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others. When you give of yourself, you are blessed with satisfaction and joy.
*References to Emmons' research are from http://emmons.faculity.ucdavis.edu
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