Appreciation, or gratitude is the first and most fundamental happiness tool. Gratitude is the purest, strongest form of love. It is the outward-bound kind of love that asks for nothing and gives everything. Gratitude is the antidote to fear. Fear is strong, but love is stronger – Dan Baker, PhD.
The holiday season is upon us, and traditionally people have taken this time to think about everything they have to be thankful for. But for many people, things still feel topsy-turvy. COVID 19 is still on the map, and political unrest still casts a cloud over many interactions – especially at the holiday dinner table. Add to that the continued upheaval and uncertainty surrounding the job market, the economy, and so much more, and some find holiday cheer harder to come by this year. But believe it or not, gratitude can help. As Baker points out, gratitude is the antidote to fear, because it’s more than simply saying thanks, it’s a way of seeing the world.
The first step towards embracing gratitude is simply getting comfortable with the concept. In our culture, women have trouble simply saying “thank you” and expressing gratitude. For some reason, we don’t feel that we are worthy of receiving compliments or gifts. Why we think we must be worthy to feel grateful is beyond my understanding, but we’re programmed that way by a lifetime of self-esteem challenges in our society. When someone gives us a compliment, women are too often ready with a “yes, but…”. We need to think of the disservice to the person honoring us when we negate their compliment and instead simply feel grateful. We have to let go of our self-limiting beliefs to do this and that takes practice. We have to compliment ourselves and feel our self-worth, look in the mirror and tell ourselves how good we are, pick out the positive aspects–that kindness you showed someone who needed it, how you finally established healthy boundaries with your family, how you pulled off that negotiation at work—and practice, practice, practice.
Another way to embrace gratitude is to write it down. A gratitude journal is recommended by many professionals (including Dr. Nancy) for working yourself out of a stuck frame of mind. When you’re at a low point, thinking about what you are grateful for and writing it down opens your eyes to the many blessings in your life. In fact, the simple practice of writing down five things that we are grateful for each and every day can not only be simple, but according to research, it can be healing. With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, Robert A. Emmons conducted a study at the University of California, Davis, and found that subjects who counted their blessings, both large and small:
- Felt better about their lives.
- Were more optimistic about the near future.
- Felt more inclined to help others with personal problems.
- Exercised more.
- Reported fewer physical symptoms than did subjects who wrote about stressful or neutral events.
Emmons also found that those who wrote down what they were thankful for daily experienced more benefits than did those who wrote once a week. Keeping that in mind, write in your gratitude list in journal every day and before you know it you will feel better and more positive. Being grateful helps us to focus on what is important–the people we love–not the stuff that is replaceable. And acknowledgement of our gratitude for their survival makes us strong and affirms our values.
The best part is the fact that you can use gratitude as needed. No amount is too much. It is proven completely safe and effective for making you feel better about life in general. In the midst of the noise, we can choose not to allow the tumultuous drama that has affected our daily lives define us. You simply need to pause, reframe and think about what you’re grateful for. There are so many things in the world to cause us to feel outrage, sadness or despair. And while those initial feelings are earnest and sometimes justified, they shouldn’t always dictate your response. Take three seconds to pause, think and breathe, and then allow a clear and present mind to choose the most appropriate way to respond to what’s going on around you. Repeat as necessary.
Gratitude is that it doesn’t have to be approved by anyone. It’s ours to keep and use at will. Keep in mind the fact that gratitude is a lifestyle strategy, rather than something we do casually during the holidays, so work hard to implement it this week and for months and years to come. As Dr. Nancy says, “There are so many things in this world that we can be grateful for. When you look at each day as an opportunity to be grateful, anything is possible.” Our lives are all filled with miraculous gifts to be grateful for, to savor. That’s why we need to make it a habit of feeling grateful for what is, and share the gift of our positive outlook with everyone around us to create a gratitude-filled happier holiday.