This post is part of my Progress, Not Perfection challenge. You can find the introductory post here.
“Gratitude helps the attitude”. This is a phrase I’ve said to my kids, students, parents, friends, family…basically, anyone in my life, and I truly believe it. When we show gratitude, we experience more sensitivity and empathy toward others and a decreased desire to seek revenge. But, what about when we aren’t grateful? Coffee is spilled on our favorite shirt when we’re rear-ended at a stoplight on the way to work, which resulted in our new car that we worked so hard for getting a dent which made us late for work, and now our boss is angry AND we are behind at work. Why on earth would we be grateful for these things?
Gratitude is a funny thing. We all know we should feel and express it on a regular basis, but it often gets brushed aside for more impulsive states of mind like irritation, impatience, and plain old exhaustion. The annoyances of everyday life can easily overshadow the intention to count our blessings. For many of us, the most profound reminder to reflect on life’s positive moments arrives just once a year on Thanksgiving, and even that occasion can be more about ingesting a variety of carbs than actually giving thanks.
But gratitude does much more than provide an annual excuse for a turkey-heavy food coma. Cultivating a regular practice of genuine appreciation for the good things in life can do wonders for your health and even the health of those around you. In this blog post, we are going to talk about how gratitude helps us reach our other goals. Think of gratitude as the fuel our vehicle needs to get from point A to point B: you are the car, gratitude is your fuel. You can get their other ways. You can be towed, you can have a friend push you, or you can rely on another form of transportation which requires someone else doing your work for you. But, what if you chose to do the work yourself…for yourself?
Click the link above to get the worksheet we use for this post.
Gratitude can improve relationships–romantic and otherwise.
According to one study, individuals who took the time to express gratitude for their partner felt more positive toward them and more comfortable expressing concerns about the relationship. And men and women with grateful partners felt more connected to their mate and more satisfied with the romantic relationship. Plus, gratitude is good whether you’re newly in love or far beyond the honeymoon stage. Gratitude for one’s partner was related to higher marital satisfaction and better adjustment among newlyweds and appreciation was listed as one of the most important factors contributing to a satisfactory long-term marriage (25-40 years). Gratitude can help us feel more invested in friendships as well. This is a great article describing the “welfare tradeoff ratio” and how it affects our friendships, if that interests you.
Showing gratitude in a way that your partner appreciates can depend heavily on their love language. I’m a huge fan of the 5 Love Languages (I ignore the religiously-based parts that don’t apply to me). My husband and I both took the quiz and then discussed results; we learned we are very different. Shocking, right?! My love language turned out to be acts of service, which means I really, really appreciate when people I love alleviate the burden of work and do things for me, like load the dishwasher, take out the trash, return library books, etc. My husband’s love language is physical touch: he really appreciates hugs and cuddling while watching t.v., and he is grateful for these moments. For us, learning one another’s love language was very helpful because we were able to learn to show gratitude to one another.
Gratitude helps improve performance in the workplace
Whether you’re a student, striving to climb the corporate ladder, or are heading up a corporation, a little bit of gratitude can go a long way. One study showed employees who hear messages of gratitude from managers may feel motivated to work harder, and another study showed that grateful high schoolers had higher GPAs, better social integration, and overall satisfaction with life than their non-grateful counterparts. From my point of view, I think this is very accurate. I’m more motivated to work hard when my employers show they are proud of the results I’m currently bringing to them. We have an exchange student from Germany who is very, very grateful to be here, and I’ve seen a very different demeanor in her than I have most American teens. She shows and feels gratitude daily and is an equal member of our family.
Gratitude helps you sleep better.
If you’re having trouble getting sufficient shut-eye, try giving thanks. Writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes before bed was shown to help students worry less and sleep longer and better. Another study found that gratitude predicted better sleep quality and duration and less sleepiness during the day. Researchers explained that when falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts that impair sleep and more likely to think about positive things, enhancing sleep quality.
It can help you cope with stress and boost your mental strength.
If the physical benefits of gratitude aren’t enough to convince you to give thanks, then maybe the mental payoff will. One study involving Vietnam War veterans found that those with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. And although it may sound counterintuitive, feeling thankful in trying times can help you bounce back. Gratitude was found to be a major contributor to resilience after the September 11 tragedies.
How do we show gratitude?
Based on the scientific literature and our conversations with parents, we’ve come to think about gratitude as an experience that has four parts:
- What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
- How we THINK about why we have been given those things
- How we FEEL about the things we have been given
- What we DO to express appreciation in turn
Here are some specific questions designed to help you recognize the good in your life and reflect on it.
Now that you know what gratitude is and how to recognize it, it’s time to pull out your 10 Minutes to Highlight Your Day worksheet from my ebook. This post is designed to prompt ACTION as well as words when expressing gratitude. Being thankful is a great start, but the big-hearted act of gratitude ensures we can be empathetic, mindful beings who are in touch with others. When you look over your 10 Minutes to Highlight Your Day worksheet, really reflect on what you’ve read. Ignore the bad right now: we will work on that, but right now, think of all the good. In my earlier example about the car accident, coffee spilling, and being late for work which resulted in an angry boss and increased workload, there is good to pull from that. We could afford a new car. Spilled coffee means we had coffee. Being late for work means we have a job. Having a boss who is upset means you likely have a boss who pushes you and expects you to be the best you can. And, the extra work? It means job security. There is always good we can pull from our bad. Pull the good and write it on your sheet. If you can’t print the sheet, write your answers on a piece of paper, in a journal or notebook, on a receipt, napkin–whatever you have available. We don’t judge 🙂 We are just grateful you’re with us.
BONUS POST: Unfortunately, Fortunately game. Click through to read how you can play this with your family to help you and your kids see the silver lining!