The beauty of Positive Psychology research is that it acts as a magnifying glass to show us things that make a difference to our well-being but that we tend to underestimate. Such is gratitude. In most cultures and religions, it is considered a virtue which can be expressed through rituals, prayer and songs. As philosopher André Comte-Sponville put it: “gratitude is the most pleasant of the virtues and the most virtuous of the pleasures”.
Why and how is gratitude important?
Gratitude is a key element for sparking improvement in well-being. The research on the impact of gratitude is compelling. Measurements of health, life satisfaction and relationships show the great benefits of gratitude. When the famous 24 character strengths are correlated with life satisfaction Gratitude comes third after Optimism and Enthusiasm.
Gratitude is at the heart of the Abundance mindset. This mindset is the eyes that see beauty, opportunity, hope, advantages and strengths even when facing setbacks and adversity. With grateful eyes, you’ll see every stumbling block as a stepping stone and this buffers you from debilitating emotions and pains. It makes you more resilient!
If you are a parent, start coaching your kids to express gratitude now!. It is different to the social convention of politeness that sometimes makes parents bully their children to “say the magic word”. To teach your children gratitude means to make them aware that they are blessed for the goodness life is bringing them.
In relationships, gratitude serves as an enhancer of connection and love. The heartfelt thanks we express will often encourage our benefactors to perform more acts of kindness. Isn’t that how it works on us?! Further, as we tune in to how others have treated us kindly, we are more likely to do the same.
So why don’t we express more of that?
Out of habit, we tend to take for granted the many things life is showering on us. It becomes detrimental when we take for granted those dear people who show us daily their care and love.
Gratitude, like many other virtues that are known to make us happier, is not conducive to a highly competitive economy. If you settle for less, if you find joy in the little things available to you through people and nature, then you are less likely to consume. I find it disturbing to think that a virtuous life is not compatible with a strong economy. It looks like living on the continuum of pain and pleasure is fuel for the engine of the economy. I personally don’t wish to live on this continuum.
Some people are confronted by the very idea of sharing gratitude. These are often the people who see themselves as victims, who have a sense of entitlement. The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology describes such people as having “narcissistic tendencies”. They are “demanding and selfish… [they] expect special favors without assuming reciprocal responsibilities”.
Write a gratitude letter
This is a well-known and powerful tool to help you connect with gratitude. I recently helped a client write such a letter to her 75-year-old mum. After decades of holding a grudge towards her, my client was able to recognise the many good things her mum had done for her despite being the victim of a physically abusive and drunk husband. She acknowledged with tears how much her poor mother had done to care for five kids on a remote farm. She then gave the letter to her mum on her birthday and they both felt connected like never before. What a gift to an old lady – and what joy and peace to her daughter.
Osho was a famous Indian sage who died in 1990. This is what he said about Gratefulness.
“Gratefulness is certainly the most precious alchemical process. If it takes possession of you, then naturally all kinds of neuroses, psychoses, or any other psychopathology will evaporate – for the simple reason that gratefulness consists of a few fundamentals.
“The first is that you are needed by existence. Man’s greatest need is to be needed. And if you can feel that even trees, the moon, the sun and the stars all need you… Without you this existence will miss some¬thing, will not be complete – although you are so small, almost nothing. But unless you were needed, you would not have been here. There must be some essential need which you are fulfilling.
“Without you there would be a gap which nobody else could fill. You are not replaceable. No man is, no rosebush is, no blade of grass is – nothing in the world is replaceable. Such unique individuality has been conferred on you. This is the first element which brings gratefulness to your heart.
“The second is that you are so unworthy, so undeserving. You have done nothing to have this dignity to be part of this beautiful existence – and still existence goes on showering its love. Not that you have earned it in any way, but it is simply the nature of existence, its overflowing joy, its overflowing love, its over¬flowing nourishment, its playfulness. And it goes on giving without asking anything in return. Its greatness, its vastness; our smallness, our nothingness… Its abundance and our nobodiness immediately create a deep, heartfelt feeling of gratitude.”