By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC
Part of me wishes I had written this in March, or perhaps July. Gratitude is such an amazing tool. It is unfortunate that it gets relegated to Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, November is a great time to talk about the power of gratitude.
Why is gratitude important? Gratitude has been called the “metastrategy” for happiness, and research backs that up. In fact, gratitude has been shown to:
- help in seeing the positive and savoring the good
- increase self-worth
- aid in coping with stress and trauma
- strengthen bonds with others
- obliterate negative emotions, including greed, anger and fear
- reduce physical symptoms, such as headache, nausea and colds.
Beyond “counting your blessings,” here are some practical ways to weave gratitude into your life:
- Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal. Benefits come both from writing and from revisiting what you’ve written.
- Try an exercise called, “What went right and why,” with your family. You can do it around the dinner table or anytime your family comes together. You think about someone who made your day or something you did to make your day go right.
- Write a gratitude letter. Expressing gratitude directly to someone in a letter is extremely effective. You may or may not send it.
- Write a list for someone you love that includes “10 reasons I love/like you.” This is a surefire way to reinvigorate a relationship.
I can share a personal experience to demonstrate the immediate power of gratitude. About a year ago, I was doing some advanced coach training. One day, our assignment was to list the 10 things we loved about our partner/spouse/best friend. “Hmph,” I thought, “This is a very bad day for this assignment.”
It was one of those days when I couldn’t think of one reason why we were together. However, I was determined to finish the assignment. After 15 minutes, I came up with, “He makes chicken well.” (You know how easy it is to undercook or overcook chicken.) There! One thing I love about him.
After a few minutes, I remembered that he makes dinner quite often and that is very thoughtful of him. Next I remembered that after a hard day, he is really good about welcoming me home with some of my favorite jazz standards — John Coltrane, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Next I remembered that he always makes me laugh, even if things get ugly. Next I remembered …. You can see how this went. I ended up texting this list to him, one at a time, minus the chicken.
To this day, he thinks that is the most romantic thing I ever did. You see, it is impossible to be angry, jealous, worried or resentful when you have gratitude in the mix.
I encourage you to pick one of the gratitude techniques and try it on for size. You may also want to get some support. Is there a friend, colleague or family member that you would like to involve in this endeavor?
Whatever you decide, remember these words from Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk known for interfaith dialogues and his work looking at the relationship between science and spirituality, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us happy.”