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May 02, 2019 Thursday 03:08:37 PM IST

Live a Grateful Life

Lifestyle

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”-  Gilbert K. Chesterton

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”- Zig Ziglar

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all others." -  Cicero

Multiple studies have shown the co-relation between gratitude and increased well-being not only for the individual but for all the people involved.  Historically, philosophers have suggested that gratitude is one of the most important human emotions for the success of the society, and religious and spiritual thinkers have suggested that it is a crucial aspect of religious and spiritual life. Modern psychology research confirms that gratitude is an important social emotion that can benefit the lives of religious people who practise gratitude, and that practising gratitude can also benefit non-religious people.


Gratitude is a feeling that spontaneously emerges from within. However, it is not simply an emotional response; it is also a choice we make. We can choose to be grateful, or we can choose to be ungrateful - to take our gifts and blessings for granted. As a choice, gratitude is an attitude or disposition. The expression of gratitude is essential to humankind’s sustainability and survival. Gratitude’s stabilizing and healing effects, which have been researched from multiple standpoints - cultural, psychological, physical, spiritual, and even financial - have made it abundantly clear that the benefits of living a grateful life are irrefutable.

Advantages 

  Through conscious and sustained practice over a period of time, we can discover as to how gratitude and all its related qualities - thankfulness, appreciation, compassion, generosity, grace, and so many other positive states - can become integrated and embodied in our lives. Gratefulness is the inner gesture of giving meaning to our life by receiving life as gift. Gratitude assures us that what we have is enough; greed and gratitude cannot peacefully coexist. The same goes for jealousy, regret, resentment, and many other negative emotions. As Melinda Beck says, “Adults who feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.”

Apart from increasing one’s well-being, psychological research has identified several other positive outcomes that result from practising gratitude. One of these positive outcomes is that practising gratitude (in this case, specifically gratitude towards a higher power) can reduce levels of stress (Krause, 2006). Gratitude also reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, and it helps people entangled with those and other problems to heal. It can give you a deep and steadfast trust that goodness exists, even in the face of uncertainty or suffering.


Not only is gratitude a warm and uplifting way to feel, it benefits the body as well. People who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function. Another discovery is that practising gratitude can decrease levels of depression and anxiety (Kashdan& Breen, 2007). 

Emmons’ views

Dr. Robert Emmons is a pioneer who conducted psychological research into the advantages of practising gratitude. His observations are quite significant. According to Dr. Emmons, people who practise gratitude show four distinct characteristics: 

1.   They celebrate the present, they are participative in life’s events and are not spectators, or in a virtual world.


2.   Gratitude blocks toxic emotions (envy, hatred, resentment, etc) which can destroy our functioning. Hence these people are likely to be more functional, open and accessible; and less likely to be easily offended. 

3.   Grateful people are more stress resilient. Of course, life is not a bed of roses. No matter what the down side of life is, grateful people find some reason to get up and pick up the pieces.

4.   Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.

 Mindfulness


Gratitude is connected to mindfulness. To be mindful, is to see the world as it is without judgments. It is responding to the world rather than reacting to it. Gratitude helps us to be fully present and attentive to our surroundings. Moment-to-moment mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. A good way to strengthen gratitude is to set aside some time every day to fully engage in mindfulness.

Six habits(of highly grateful people, as explained by J.Adam Smith):

1. Once in a while they think of death and loss

According to several studies, contemplating endings really does make you more grateful for the life you currently have. People who visualise own death have increased gratefulness to life.  Similarly, envisioning the loss of one’s partner, or dear one, results in increase in gratitude to that person. The point is, absence may just make the heart grow grateful.


2. They take the time to smell the roses 

And they also smell the coffee, the bread baking in the oven, the aroma of the curry - whatever gives them pleasure. Psychologist Fred Bryant found that savouring positive experiences makes them stickier in your brain, and increases their benefits to your psyche - and the key, he argues, is expressing gratitude for the experience. That’s one of the ways; appreciation and gratitude go hand in hand.

3. They take the good things as gifts, not as birthrights.

What’s the opposite of gratitude? Entitlement - the attitude that people owe you something just because you’re so very special. “Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.” (Emmons R.)


4. They are grateful to people, not just things    

Unlike things in nature, such as the Sun, moon, trees, etc., human beings expect gratitude, and thrive on it when they receive some. Experiences that heighten meaningful connections with others - like noticing how another person has helped you, acknowledging the effort it took, and savouring how you benefited from it - engage biological systems for trust and affection, alongside circuits for pleasure and reward. This provides a synergistic and enduring boost to the positive experience. While saying ‘thank you’ to a person, your brain registers that something good has happened and that you are more richly enmeshed in a meaningful social community.

5. Grateful people are habitually specific

They don’t say, “I love you because you’re just so wonderfully wonderful!” Instead, the really skilled grateful person will say: “I love you for the snacks and tea you make when you see I’m tired and hungry, even though you are just as tired”.   


The reason for this is pretty simple: It makes the expression of gratitude feel more authentic, for it reveals that the ‘thanker’ was genuinely paying attention and isn’t just going through the motions. The richest ‘thank you’s will acknowledge intentions.

6. They thank even their adversaries

When you graduate from the basic to advanced gratitude, you will be strong enough to thank even your adversaries.   “It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one ‘feels’ grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement plan. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial ‘happiology’. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.” (Robert Emmons).



Psy. Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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