1. Learning Gratitude

    June 16, 2014

    Learning Gratitude

    You may remember the article “Gratitude as a coping mechanism”. In this article, we discussed how being more grateful helps build up positive emotions and cope with life’s stress and setbacks. Most importantly, it helps build a positive relationship with yourself and others. No-one enjoys an ungrateful friend. And on a personal level, not being able to be grateful and recognize what a wonderful life most of us have, is a direct road to leading a life full of frustration and letting the good stuff pass you by.

    Being grateful can also be a way of mindfulness, of becoming more aware of yourself, your life, your relationships and the world around you. And of really beginning to understand what matters to you, what you’re truly grateful for.

    Just a simple example: imagine you fall seriously ill. And your spouse takes care of you with all the love he/she can provide. Yet, you return that love by being ungrateful, grumpy and demanding more and more. How long do you think it will take until he/she can endure the demanding task of taking care of you? My grandmother always said: “Love is repaid with love.” If you’re a grateful person, you will return all that love with love and your relationship will only go stronger.

    An easy exercise to start with

    This exercise is described in Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness and has been tested on his graduate students successfully. All you have to do, for a week, at the end of each day is write a list of all the things, people, events and experiences you’re grateful for in your life (past, present and future).

    At first, if you’re still new at this whole being grateful thing, you will probably not have many items on your list. But try to think about it and you’ll see that everyday you’ll have something to add to your list you find yourself grateful for in your life. At the end of the week, how many items do you have?

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  2. Gratitude as a Coping Mechanism

    April 14, 2014

    Gratitude as a Coping Mechanism

    Gratitude is a powerful feeling. It makes us appreciate all the good we have in our lives and enjoy it for what it is, instead of craving for the next big thing. Which in turn will leave us constantly unsatisfied with our lives, because there will always be something more to crave for. Gratitude is a characteristic of people experiencing higher levels of well-being with known reports of 67% of grateful people experiencing gratitude “all the time” and up to 60% reporting that expressing gratitude “made them feel very happy” (Gallup: “Survey results on gratitude, adults and teenagers“). But can gratitude also function as a coping mechanism? Can it helps us deal with life’s biggest adversities and still flourish?

    Researchers Wood, Joseph and Linley set out to answer just that.

    Gratitude is correlated to happiness  and well-being

    Research done so far has shown that dispositional Gratitude has the highest correlations with life satisfaction and well-being. And consequently negative correlations with depression and envy. Which makes sense, if grateful people are focused on their achievements and value them, their sense of self-efficacy is higher and they will not envy what others have achieved that much.

    Others studies have shown that inducing gratitude during weeks in people has proven to have improvements on happiness, depression and even physical health (for a revision of studies check Wood, Joseph and Linley’s 2007 article).

    What seems to be in place here, is that not only gratitude is an important mechanism in well-being and optimism but it can also serve as a coping mechanism during stressful situations. Being grateful might actually help you deal in a more constructive way with stress and life’s adversities, making you flourish as a person.

    Gratitude is a Positive Emotion

    According to Fredrickson’s (1998, 2001) broaden-and-built model of positive emotions, positive emotions can serve as resources for building up resilience in people, as those positive emotions are stored to be used in stressful or threatening situations. But also, positive emotions are key aspects in pushing us towards an action. And given that, positive emotions helps push forward instead of holding us back.

    Gratitude seems to correlate to a higher social approach strategy, as studies have shown that grateful people are also likely to express extroversion, agreeableness, forgiveness and empathy. Which are important characteristics to consider in social interaction because they make others want to approach us.

    Grateful people see the world as a hospitable place, deemphasizing (not ignoring) the negative side of life which in turn may help them deal actively with problems they may encounter.

    But the question is: Do grateful people have more psychological resources?

    According to Wood, Joseph and Linley’s (2007) findings coping mechanisms mediate the relationship between stress and gratitude. But it also showed important differences between grateful people:

    1)      Grateful people tend to seek out emotional and instrumental social support as a coping mechanism, make use of positive reinterpretation and growth and planning

    2)      Grateful people used more positive coping mechanisms, like approaching problems instead of avoiding them

    Inversely, gratitude was negatively correlated with behavioral disengagement, self-blame, substance abuse and denial. Which can all be seen as negative coping mechanisms as they are meant to avoid problems and not fix them.

    This means that grateful people tend to use more positive strategies to deal with stress and their issues by reaching out to friends and family for support, which in turn helps decrease their levels of stress and depression and function as an active way to solve problems instead of avoiding them.

    Can being grateful be a good thing for you? It sure can. Not only because it increases your levels of well-being and life satisfaction but it can also help you cope with stress. Now the question remains: how can you be more grateful?

     


  3. Developing A Sense of Gratitude

    February 2, 2014

    Developing A Sense of Gratitude

    Sure, we all want to believe we are grateful for the things we have in this life, but how much do we truly practice gratitude on a daily (or even weekly) basis?  Being grateful for what one has seems to be a simple task, but surprisingly, for many people, it is not.  With the hustle and bustle of daily life, along with the development of new gadgets and gizmos everyday, it can be hard to stay grounded and appreciate the things that are a part of you life in the here and now.  Here are some tips for increasing (or developing) a sense of gratitude.

     

    Write it down – This might seem like a no-brainer; writing down what you are grateful for is simple.  However, it can be more difficult than you think.  First and foremost, you need to actually sit down and find the time to write.  As I stated earlier about the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be hard for many people to justify sitting down for a few minutes and write out these affirmations.  However, by keeping a visible list of things and people you are grateful for in your life, it can serve as a powerful reminder in times of need.  Whenever you are feeling down about life or struggling with some problem, you can pull out the list and remind yourself of just how many things you have to be thankful for.

     

    Letters of appreciation – Another great idea to help you feel more grateful about your life is to write a letter of appreciation to someone in your life.  You don’t actually have to send this letter if you don’t want to, but the act of writing down all the ways this person has helped you can send an important message.  First, it helps you realize that you are important and others do care about you.  And second, it allows you to take a moment to reflect on just how much another person was able to be there for you during an emotional or trying time in your life.

     

    Meditate – Getting in tune with your physical and mental states of being is another way to develop or strengthen gratitude.  Even sitting down for 10 minutes and focusing on yourself can help you appreciate how strong you can actually be. Focus on your breathing, how it feels as it enters and leaves your body; focus on the physical sensations and the mental clarity that meditation can bring.  Learning to appreciate the amazing things your body can actually do helps you to feel grateful for health and well-being.

     

    Help someone in need –This can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.  Maybe it’s a weekly standing date at the local shelter to lend a hand (or an ear).  Perhaps it’s volunteering once a month at the animal shelter.  Or maybe it’s simply helping someone with grocery bags outside the supermarket.  Whatever you do, no matter how large or small, the act of helping another human being helps you reconnect with your purpose in life and makes you appreciate the fact you can actually be of assistance to another person (or animal).

     

    Focus on what you have, not what you want – Sure, we all have wants in life.  We want to have more money, more time, a bigger house, a nicer car….the list could go on and on.  But instead of focusing on the things in life you don’t have, try refocusing your energy on what you do have.  For example, if you find yourself longing for more closet space in your bedroom and it’s stressing you out, think about the fact you are lucky to have your own bedroom – because there is someone out there sleeping on the floor (or worse, in a car or on the streets).  When you are upset because your best friend bought a new car and you’re still driving around in your clunker from college, think about that elderly gentleman who walks (rain, sleet or snow) because he can’t even afford a clunker.  When you keep the focus on what you actually have rather than what you don’t, you learn to appreciate the smaller (and greater) things in life.

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstar/4345364420/