Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Benefits of Gratitude

During the month of November there seems to be a lot of focus on gratitude. Were taught as children how important it is to express our appreciation when others give us something or do something for us. Although we learn to say thank you, I dont think we fully understand why it is important to be a grateful person. These lessons seem to focus on the one-way street of being considerate of others feelings. Although important, consideration of others doesnt fully hit the mark because an attitude of gratitude has significant, lasting benefit for the grateful person while only leaving a temporary impression on the receiver of that gratitude.

The real benefits of gratitude include the following:
·      Increased positive emotions
·      Being more alert, awake, and feeling alive
·      Experiencing more pleasure or joy
·      Being more optimistic, happier
·      Being more forgiving
·      Increased generosity, compassion, and helpfulness
·      Feeling more connected, less lonely or alone
·      Being more outgoing, demonstrative, or animated
·      Lower blood pressure
·      Healthier immune system
·      Fewer aches and pains
·      Better sleep or sleeping longer, feelings refreshed in the a.m.
·      Tendency to eat healthier and exercise more

Because there are so many personal benefits that go with being grateful, would it not be wise to try focusing on being more appreciative all year long rather than just this one month? We should embrace a Lifestyle of Gratitude. Lets be grateful people all year long. When we are grateful, we see the world in a different light, well realize how wonderful life really is and we will find true joy.

Here are 10 things to do and remember that can help us be more grateful people:

Recognize the blessing of living in peace
Streets of Sarajevo, circa 1993
Do you realize the peace we are actually enjoying right now? We do not experience anything that would compare with living in a city being bombarded with air attacks. We do not have to worry about a sniper when we try to cross the street to get a cup of coffee or a gallon of milk. We are not faced with an Rwandan-like holocaust. We do not have to fear that our neighbors might try to kill us because our family has a different lineage or religion. Living in peace is a great blessing. This alone is reason for the sincerest gratitude.

You are actually rich
In our society, there is a real focus on obtaining more and more money. In fact, this may be the chief reason that makes it hard to be grateful. How rich are you really? Check out the Global Rich List. There you can enter your annual income to see how you compare to the world. Chances are, you enjoy an income that is greater than 95% of the rest of the world. Did you realize you are in the top tier of the worlds richness ranking?

Health and prosperity, you have it.
Life expectancy through most of history has been only 20-35 years. In fact, most of that time was spent dealing with diseases, poverty, and general misery. It has only been in the last century that human life expectancy has increased significantly at all. The current average of 67 years is far greater than any time in the history of man. In fact, the standard of living we have probably come to take for granted is far greater than almost all people in the history of the world. Even kings as recent as the 18th century could not expect to live like we do today. If we consider the wealth we have combined with the health we enjoy, we are probably healthier and more prosperous than 99% of all the other people in human history.

Appreciate the good things in life
We have a tendency to see the bad things that happen in our life without recognizing the good things. This is actually pretty sad. Of course, when we watch or read the news, most of what we find is the bad, the denigrated, and the worst of what the world has to offer. We should take the time and make the effort to recognize the things that are good, even the little things matter. A couple weeks ago as I was walking through the isles of the grocery store, a stranger smiled at me. That act of kindness is a sure sign that hope is still a part of this world. When just one person can call you a friend, thats an important reason to be grateful. Just a few little things can add up to great things.

A Journal
Many of us keep a record of our thoughts and experiences. The focus of our records can be directed more toward the good things that have happened and a little less on the bad. Writing about the things that impress you and recording the things that are good helps us remember them more clearly. When life takes a turn toward the dark and dreary and it becomes more difficult to be grateful, take a moment to read past entries in the journal. The journal then becomes a source of strength that can help overcome the hard times.

A sliver of good
Sometimes lifes events seem to pummel us with bad after bad. A few years ago, our family seemed to be beset with problems, loss and turmoil. I even had a couple friends comment on how difficult it must be, that they could not imagine being able to deal with the challenges we faced. Although there was a lot of difficulty, there were little things behind the bad that were positive. Those little positive aspects of the trials were huge blessings in my life. I would not even consider trading away those good things to make the bad disappear. It is a difficult thing but we need to understand there are always positive things behind all the bad things that happen. At the very least, bad things provide valuable lessons for which we should be grateful.

Gratitude Sessions
Theory without practice means very little in our lives. Knowing we should be grateful wont help much if we do not practice being grateful. Arrange a time to specifically focus on recognizing those things for which you are grateful. A session of gratitude doesnt have to be more than five to 10 minutes of thinking about the good things that happen and expressing gratitude for them. It would do well to have daily recognition of the good.

Positive Begets Positive
Two negatives dont always make a positive. It does in math but it doesnt when were talking about people. You will be like the people with whom you surround yourself. If you spend time with people who are always complaining, it will be most difficult to be grateful. Have you ever rubbed a nail or paperclip against a magnet? The nail or paperclip becomes magnetized. That is what happens when we rub elbows with people, we tend to take on the same characteristics as the people with whom we associate.

Giving makes us happy
When we focus on those things we have rather than the things we lack, we tend to be more grateful. Giving to others fosters a mindset of gratitude because we tend to focus on what we have instead of what we dont have. You really have a hard time giving something to someone when you dont have it to give. The tendency to focus on receiving is human and very common. It is also a trap of the mind that makes us unhappy and difficult to be grateful.

Resolution of Gratitude
We can practice and recognize everything in the previous nine points but the ultimate decision whether to be grateful comes down to a personal choice. Make a promise to yourself to focus on being grateful, to be a grateful person. You control who you are and how you feel unless you relinquish that control to someone or something else. So, make the decision, make it happen.

I am grateful for the added benefits of being grateful – the happiness that comes from a thankful heart.

“A man is not rightly conditioned until he is a happy, healthy, and prosperous being;
and happiness, health, and prosperity are the result of a harmonious adjustment
of the inner with the outer of the man with his surroundings.”   - James Allen
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