The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines gratitude as a feeling of appreciation or thanks. It also reports that the first known usage in the English language appeared in 1523. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out how that came about? Melody Beattie said that gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. In the age of the Internet if you Google “gratitude” you will get over three million hits.
There are many ways to approach this subject. Some think of it as a spiritual discipline, some believe it will improve your mental health, or outlook on life, or that expressing gratitude can make you happier and can help you pay attention to the daily things that happen that you have not noticed before and increase your ability to see that the good sometimes is paired with the bad.
Gratitude journals are a good resource to increase your appreciation on a day to day basis. If you feel too busy to do this at home, you can bring your journal to work and write in it at lunch or take it to a coffee place on the weekends, or if you prefer, do it electronically. I keep a daily journal and include what I’m grateful for most days. It is especially helpful to do this on days that you are discouraged. If it seems daunting to do it daily, do it weekly or monthly. Everyone I know that uses a gratitude journal reports that it has changed their perspective in a positive way. Another idea is to keep a gratitude bowl, simply write down what you are grateful for, drop it in the bowl and read some of the things periodically when you could use a reminder.
A good example of the usefulness of this comes from my friend Susan who said that on a cold and rainy morning when she was on her way to teach a class she discovered she had a flat tire, luckily before she got on the highway she was able to pull over safely to a curb in her own neighborhood. She had her cell phone with her and reached the colleague who she was doing the workshop with who agreed to start without her. She had coverage for road side assistance but knew that she might have to wait for a long while so instead she called the garage she took her car to which was near a tire shop and asked them if they could help her. They said they would and arrived twenty minutes later, replaced her tire with a new one and she arrived only thirty minutes late to work. That evening she wrote in her gratitude journal that she was grateful for all these things, especially with her good relationship with her mechanic and she sincerely was.
On unstuck.com I read some helpful tips to increase gratitude:
-Notice your day to day world from a point of gratitude
-If you identify something or someone with negative experiences, switch it in your mind
to a more positive thought: i.e. your Aunt Edith is critical of you but tells the best family stories
-Gratitude requires humility, defined as a modest and respectful point of view
-Give at least one complement daily or ask someone to share your appreciation of some
thing: i.e. Did you notice the gorgeous sunset last night?
– When you find yourself in a difficult situation ask yourself what you can learn from it
-Vow to not complain, criticize or gossip for 10 days
-Seem genuinely happy to see or hear from people who call you and notice the people
that respond with surprise or delight
-Become involved in a cause that is important to you
Thanksgiving is a national holiday dedicated to gratitude. Whether you spend it alone or with friends or family, or whether you are home or not, it is an ideal occasion to express gratitude either in person, on the phone or by writing. This can be as simple as each person sitting around a table stating what they are grateful for, or each person telling another person why they are grateful to them. Sending thank you notes to people you value around this time of year can increase your feelings of gratitude and theirs as well. How great does it feel to open an e-mail with the subject line that says Thank You? How terrific is it to open your mail box and find a card from someone thanking you for something you did or said? Or receiving the type of voice mail or text that you never want to erase? We all have probably been told in our lives that we were ungrateful, or know that we have been. This is something that we can change and as the Talmud asks: “If not now, when?”