It’s not the only component, but it certainly plays a vital role in our ability to appreciate what we have and realise that the pursuit of material fulfilment doesn’t equate happiness.
In a perfect world, the first thing we should feel when we wake up is happy and grateful for the life we lead. The reality is usually far from this. Most of us lead lives where we are constantly rushing around for work or children, getting stressed and not having the time for self-care. This situation does not inspire gratitude, which in turn leads to feeling unhappy.
Within the realm of psychology, there’s a movement called positive psychology. As the name suggests this focuses on gratitude, happiness, compassion, feeling joy and being inspired. Gratitude is an integral part of this and can be as basic as thanking someone for a gift to feeling a deeper emotion of gratefulness when something wrong or sad is remedied.
There have been many studies proving the correlation between gratitude and being happy. We don’t need experts to tell us that appreciating what we have and striving to improve ourselves makes us feel good. What we do need is to ensure we are aware that feeling grateful will definitely lead to better relationships (personal and professional), feeling more optimistic about life in general and improving emotional maturity.
How can you cultivate gratitude?
There are many ways to do this – some will come naturally, while others require more effort – but in the end, they all lead to the end goal of happiness and positivity.
Count your blessings: as cliché as this is, it’s mandatory. Unless you’re an incredibly happy, positive person already, chances are you think the world is unfair and everyone is against you more often than you care to admit! Instead of doing this, think about the good (no matter how insignificant) things that are going in your life. For example, colleagues at work aren’t pulling their weight and leaving you to fix the mess; but you know you’re going home to a supportive partner/family who can hardly wait to see you. A blessing doesn’t have to be grandiose, it can be something as simple as being in good health or going for a walk with your kids.
Say “thank you”: another basic, simple act that can make a massive difference in both your life and the person you’re thanking. If you want to make it even more meaningful, write (yes, write!) a note or letter expressing thanks to your partner, parent, child or friend for just being there. An email is fine but not as personal, and the written word always has a stronger impact.
Keep a gratitude diary: it’s no secret that writing down your hopes, dreams and worries can help bring closure or a solution. Reading what you wrote can give clarity and help release pent up emotions, and this works just as well when you put to paper everything you feel grateful for that day.
Mindful meditation: mindfulness focuses on being acutely aware of the moment and what you’re feeling, and it’s up to the individual to decide what they want to be mindful about. Instead of focusing on your usual aspiration (e.g. empathy, peace of mind, communication), hone in on what you’re grateful for that day.
At work: gratitude is often forgotten at the workplace. We are expected to perform and deliver without receiving praise or thanks. This happens across industries and work levels, and it needs to start with bosses and supervisors thanking their staff. Offices where gratitude is lacking are known to have high staff turnover and poor performance—and it’s so easy to fix. Even something as basic as having a staff appreciation lunch can improve attitudes and the work environment.
Gratitude is an emotion, some say the most important of all. Unfortunately, many of us are hindered by cynicism, narcissism and plain old envy; and we also focus too much on being grateful for material things. This has the reverse effect on feeling grateful and happy. Feel gratitude honestly and it’s guaranteed that you will feel better emotionally, mentally, physically and have better relationships with everyone around you.