Each and every one of my days starts with a 20-minute meditation, where I give thanks for all that I have, and the new day I’ve been given. It’s not always easy to focus on the good in life, especially when times are tough and the days are as grey and wet as they are in London right now, but focus, we must. Why? Because gratitude is a powerful positive force and one which impacts our physical and mental health, our emotional wellbeing, and our sense of purpose and belonging. It’s important at any stage of life, but crucial when we enter retirement.
Not just for Gen X
It may seem from the myriad of self-help books, journals, apps, and Tik Tok videos, that gratitude is something for millennials or Gen X, but it is not. Being thankful is something we should all practice, regardless of age or circumstances, because of the huge benefits this brings. Being mindful of the positive things in life may seem like a modern concept, but in fact, teachings on the emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits of gratitude are as old as time. Cicero, the Roman statesman, lawyer, and writer, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all the virtues, but the parent of all the others.” And in my mind, he was absolutely right.
The science behind it
Being thankful may seem like a ‘fluffy,’ emotional concept – something wellness gurus have dreamt up, but the sceptics out there should know that there is scientific thinking behind it. Dr Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, at Davis, has studied and researched gratitude extensively, so much so, that he’s affectionately known as the ‘Gratitude Professor.’ He believes there are four reasons why gratitude is scientifically good for us:
- It turns what we have into enough. If we find joy in the things we have, rather than the things we aspire to have, we live a happy and fulfilled life. The things we do have take on more meaning and become indispensable. We become the complete antithesis of everything the consumer-driven society we live in wants us to be.
- It blocks toxic emotions like pride, gluttony, greed, anger, envy, lust, and despair. Try to be grateful for something and then try to have a toxic emotion. It is impossible to have both because they are like oil and water. They don’t mix.
- It helps deal with stress because it blocks it. It is almost impossible to feel anxious when we are expressing gratitude.
- It strengthens self-worth and social ties. When we are truly grateful and we express this, we are appreciated. People love to be thanked for what they do, and research shows that showering others with gratitude makes everyone feel good and this helps build stronger bonds with family, friends, colleagues, and the wider community.
How to bring gratitude into life
Gratitude won’t just appear in our lives because we want it to. It has to be cultivated, but there are many small yet significant steps you can easily take to welcome it with open arms…
- Do as I do and start each and every day by being thankful for what you have. Take time to appreciate the day you have been given and pledge to live it with purpose and with passion. Mirror that with reflection before you go to bed – think about the moments of happiness you experienced, the joy you gave and received, and all the little things you have reason to be grateful for.
- Find little moments of joy throughout your day. This might be something in nature, like beautiful leaves in fall, or birdsong on your morning walk. It could be the cup of coffee your partner brought you in bed, or the warm hug your grandchild presented you with. When you start to look for these pockets of happiness in your life, you will find more and more of them.
- Make a note of all the things you are grateful for and do this as often as you can. The simple act of writing (with pen and paper) has been proven to foster happiness and wellbeing because it gives you time to pause, reflect, and focus on the good things.
- Remember the bad times, but don’t dwell on them. When you think back to past challenges and compare them to your life right now you foster gratitude.
- Shower others with gratitude. Consider how you feel when you receive gratitude. It is always a positive experience. Thanking others helps not only them, but you too. A recent study found that people who received more expressions of gratitude at work slept better, adopted a healthier diet, had fewer headaches, and were more satisfied.
I must admit that when someone first suggested I practice gratitude, I was highly sceptical, but now my life wouldn’t be complete without it. It has made me a calmer, kinder person, strengthened my relationships, and helped me to create a life that’s full of joy and wonderment. If you are keen to learn more about how to bring more gratitude into your life, please check out my book “The Spirit of Gratitude”.
And, as those of you in the US prepare for thanksgiving, I thought I’d leave you with this food for thought…
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy