Practising gratitude is more than good manners or courtesy. It is a way of showing sincere appreciation for what you have, and to those who may have contributed. It is a simple habit, but a neglected one. It isn’t about being nice, it brings powerful personal benefits that far outweigh the little effort it takes to give thanks regularly.
It lifts your mood
Gratitude helps alter negative thinking. It is linked to optimism and it has been shown that people who are grateful are also happier, with more social support and are less affected by stress. Feeling grateful is a lifter of mood, regular gratitude practice is now promoted to bolster mental health and even feel less depressed.
Practising gratitude means recognising the good things in your life, and acknowledging and thanking others who may have helped or contributed, directly or indirectly.
Being grateful for what you have is one of the most effective ways of changing your outlook on life. You may think that ‘giving thanks’, or ‘being grateful’, sounds a little preachy; many of us will have been told, when we were little, that this is how we should respond to unhappiness or difficulty.
Maybe that’s why, until recently, gratitude stayed in the domain of philosophy and religion. But gratitude is now accepted in psychology as a way to counter negative thinking and increase contentment (it can even help lift depression). It is also a significant contributor to personal resilience.
Whenever you recognise the good things in life and give thanks for them you are practising gratitude. The same goes for acknowledging others, and thanking them for their contribution. Most of us don’t do this often enough, and when we do it can seem unfocused and off-hand. Your intention may be sincere, so take the time to show it.
The benefits of regular gratitude practise can strengthen social connection, improve relationships, provide a more upbeat outlook, foster compassion and forgiveness, and increase contentment. In all age groups, it has been shown to protect mental and physical health. Given these benefits and others, it is understandable how practising gratitude can contribute to a sense of optimism.
How to practise gratitude
It starts with training yourself. The first thing to do, if you haven’t already done it, is to take control of your thinking. The patterns of thought that often goes unnoticed need to be reined in and altered. Learning to spot your train of thought and changing it may seem odd if you are new to the idea, but it is an essential skill for improving your outlook. Changing a miserable or even neutral thought patter to something more uplifting is easier when you practice gratitude.
Notice the good things in your life
There are plenty of them. As Shakespeare said: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”. Say “thankyou” to whatever you believe in, God, the Universe… even your long dead ancestors (you wouldn’t be here without every single one who lived before you.
Tell others you appreciate them
It may make you uncomfortable at first, but get over it. Telling others you appreciate them can be done directly (“I really appreciate you being here…”), or indirectly (“You are a good friend, you know that?”). Don’t be tempted to avoid showing appreciation with excuses like “I don’t have to tell them, they know how I feel about them”. That’s just a cop-out. Tell strangers, like service people, retail staff, that you are grrateful for whatever they do for you. It can make a person’s day. It happens so rarely. Showing that you are grateful for the help you get can also reflect well on you, and may even result in better service.
Look out for nice surprises
You won’t spot them if you don’t believe that good things and nice surprises happen, so look around you and be grateful for what life brings your way, even the tiny things. Start with waking up in the morning, being alive, your friends (if you have them ), your ability to appreciate solitude (if you don’t – yet)… etc.
Show interest in others
And be curious about them and how they spend their time. Asking questions about someone shows interest and builds rapport. It’s a great icebreaker and – especially if you are socially awkward around new people – it gives you something to focus on (them, not you) to distract from any anxiety you might feel.
Make it original
There are thousands of ways to show gratitude. The more you do it the better you’ll get at doing it. You’ll reap the benefits and change your outlook on life. Start today. It might feel strange, anything new does, but you’ll soon get over it and it can be life-changing.
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