Last year at this time I was exploring how to maintain a year round attitude of gratitude and express it more often.
In my research on the science behind gratitude, I found that gratitude has two key components:
- An affirmation of goodness: When you feel gratitude, you affirm that you live in a benevolent world.
- A recognition that the source of this goodness comes from outside of yourself: You acknowledge that other people (or higher powers) provide you with “gifts” that improve your life in some way.
According to Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and expert on gratitude, gratitude is “a relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
So I practiced seeing this past year. What I found was that paying attention—being present in the moment, and not leaping ahead to the next activity on my to-do list—was critical. Paying attention might sound simple (and obvious), but it can be easier said than done. (Ask anyone out holiday shopping!) Two techniques that I found helpful are:
- Breath. Notice the noticing.
- Take a couple minutes each day to stop and reflect.
- At the end of the day, make a gratitude list of ten things for which you are grateful. Then, write down something unique you noticed that day for which you are grateful.
I also found that paying attention provides space to recognize and affirm others. While it’s easy to say words like please and thank you, these courtesies can become potent acknowledgments of gratitude when combined with eye contact and genuine sincerity. Appropriate nonverbal affirmations, such as smiles and hugs, can convey encouragement, excitement, empathy and support. And of course, whether in response to a gift or kind act, or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life, getting into the habit of writing thank-you letters can help express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.
So, to all who read this, a great, big “thank you!” May you have a happy thanksgiving!