~ By Patricia Kay Youngson, RN ~
Think of one thing or person you have appreciated in the last twenty four hours. There, you’ve done it. You’ve practiced gratitude. Easy, yes?
Gratitude is remembering something positive in the past or noting something positive in the present. It is a type of positive thinking. Gratitude decreases negative thoughts by a preponderance of positive thoughts. It reminds us of the good in our lives. It is the fastest way to change your mood.
Practicing gratitude is a good habit to cultivate. It can actually raise your happiness “set point”. Psychologists who study the science of “positive psychology” tell us that 50 percent of our happiness is genetic, 10 percent is from our circumstances and 40 percent from our intentional activities. Gratitude (as an intentional activity) can increase our set point by 25 percent. Not a bad deal.
Gratitude not only increases our happiness but it benefits our health and interpersonal relationships. In addition, people who keep gratitude journals are found to exercise more, have less illness, are more optimistic about the future, and more positive about their lives in general. They have more positive emotions such as “enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism (Emmons, p 11).
We all tend to have a negative bias in what we remember and what we notice. This comes naturally to us since our ancestors needed this negative bias for their survival. Our ancestors who assumed the worst and ran from a rustle in the bushes would have survived, as opposed to the person who didn’t fear a possible lion. The practice of gratitude helps replace the negative with a more positive mindset.
Being grateful is basically a product of being aware. Make an intention to be aware of what you are glad you have–the blessings you have been given. Ask yourself what would you miss if you didn’t have it? That is nearly everything!
Where gratitude becomes difficult to justify is the admonition to be grateful for everything. Are you kidding? How can we be grateful for chronic pain, anxiety, depression, a fellow worker who is hard to deal with, a fender bender or worse? It just doesn’t make any sense, except as it has been explained to me as a matter of faith. Faith, based on the fact of my abundance of blessings, that this too is a blessing in disguise. Sometimes, we could say, very well disguised! For those who find the Bible a source of wisdom, there is a verse saying if you ask your father for a fish would he give you a snake?
So what are some ways to start a gratitude practice? You could take a little time at the end of the day to list the things you appreciated that day. Or you could take a longer time each week to make a list. Get in the habit of saying “Thank you” to others. You could tell people why you appreciate them or write them a gratitude letter.
One of my sources suggested taking ten seconds every hour noting something that you appreciate. Personally, I find this the most effective practice for me. It puts me on the look out for the good things I am given. Usually I find more than one thing an hour that I appreciate. It is similar to playing a road trip game in which you might try to find just one green car an hour. You find yourself watching all of the cars and noticing several green ones.
Thanks to Robert Emmons and his book “Thanks” from which I got much of this information. Here is wishing you lots of gratitude and happiness in your life.
Patricia Kay Youngson is an RN and has a Masters in Counseling, specializing in pain management. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: patriciak.com