Practising gratitude has long been acknowledged as a means to achieve and maintain higher levels of happiness. We’ve all been taught to “count our blessings” and say “thank you” from an early age. But there is so much more to the practice of gratitude.
The reasons why it helps us stay positive, even when times are challenging, are fascinating. There are many benefits to achieving happiness both for ourselves and those around us. There are also many benefits related to incorporating gratitude into our lives.
So, we, ourselves, benefit both from practising gratitude and from being happy. But making gratitude a priority is good for those around us, too. It enables us to be better friends, partners, parents, brothers, sisters, spouses, and so on.
Let’s focus on how to do it best. That’s right – researchers have identified ways to practise gratitude that are most likely to benefit us the most.
It’s really about having a structured conversation with ourselves, in a way that helps keep the dialogue fresh. To begin, our thinking should be focused on the present moment – and what is going well in our lives.
Even during challenging times, we must seek to identify what I call the “rays of sunshine”. Here are some examples:
- Perhaps you struggle with a work challenge that is making your life difficult. But perhaps you have a wonderful, loving spouse.
- Perhaps you recently ended a relationship that you thought was “the one”. But perhaps you have a strong family to support you.
- Perhaps you have received concerning news about your health. But perhaps you have a supportive network of friends, good health insurance and access to quality care.
- For each “ray of sunshine“, you identify and think about individuals who helped you find that place in the sun. If you are grateful for your job. Was there a mentor who encouraged you? Is there someone who gave you an introduction or recommendation that made a difference?
Someone who encouraged you to chase your dreams? If you’re grateful for a strong family and support system. Who in your family cultivated that loving atmosphere in your home? Who did what to nurture your family relationships and keep them strong? Using this approach to cultivate gratitude is most effective for a number of reasons.
It keeps things novel. Our lives change day-to-day and week-to-week. What is going well today may not be going as well tomorrow or the next day. By seeking out our daily or weekly “rays of sunshine” we not only take our focus off our troubles, but we keep our blessings front and centre in our thoughts, driving negative thoughts away.
When we achieve a goal or acquire a new possession, or even enter into a new relationship, the boost we get to our happiness is often short-lived because of how adaptive we are. Our ability to adapt is a blessing when bad things happen, but tends to mean that we don’t relish the upside as long as we could.
Through practising gratitude, the way it’s described here, keeps our gratefulness “fresh”. In short, when something good happens, practising gratitude in this way will help us retain the ‘happiness boost’ longer.
Practising gratitude in the moment helps us steer clear of comparing ourselves to others. When we’re focused on what’s going well in our lives, and on the many wonderful people who helped us get to our place in the sun, those thoughts get crowded out of our minds. The brain is not capable of having positive and negative thoughts at the same time. Let’s all make it easier for us to choose the positive ones.
Let’s practise “gratitude at the moment” as often as we can. And let’s try to figure out how to do it so it becomes a habit – one that we never need to break – and let our boosted happiness become something that others are grateful for when they “count their blessings”.
Joan Senio is a mental health blogger who runs My Best Friend Adeline. She is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, godmother and aunt.