Appreciation and Gratitude
A few years ago I stumbled on something that really helped to shift my life for the better.
It’s a secret super-power that’s been hidden in plain sight for years. It can “unshackle us from toxic emotions”, help us to rewire our brain towards more positivity, strengthen our relationships and even increase our resilience after traumatic events.
What is it? It’s the habit of practising gratitude and appreciation.
What IS appreciation?
Appreciation means relishing and savouring the good that’s in our life, no matter how small it may be.
It’s about stopping to smelling the roses instead of walking by so fast that we don’t see them, or really tasting our cup of coffee instead of swigging it back because we’re exhausted. It’s an opportunity to pause and live in the present moment so, in many ways, it’s about being mindful and feeling a sense of connection to nature or life itself.
Mindfulness is key, as we need to be aware of things before we can appreciate them! Only then can we create the time and space to recognise and acknowledge the value and meaning we find in them.
And what about gratitude?
Dr Robert A Emmons, the world-expert on the science of gratitude and the author of The Little Book of Gratitude, calls it a “way of seeing that alters our gaze”.
“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, the gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
Secondly, we recognise that “the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves”;
“We acknowledge that other people - or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset - gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
The social dimension is especially important to gratitude. We can appreciate anything - a flower, that cup of coffee, the feel of sunshine on our face. But gratitude tends to mean that we’re grateful to someONE or someTHING.
Because of this some researchers call it a “social glue”, as it inspires people to be more generous, kind and helpful. It reminds people of the goodness in their existing relationships which, in turn, keeps them together through feeling appreciated. As Dr Emmons confirms,
“I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Action for March; Write it down!
The best way to practise appreciation and gratitude is to make a habit of writing it down!
The Museum of Happiness has its own Gratitude Facebook group, where you can share what you’re grateful for and be lifted up by other people’s gratitude.
Or start a journal! If you’re new, try a week of writing down three things you’re grateful for each night before you go to sleep. This article is a brilliant resource if you want to start - or restart - a gratitude journal.
Or try Brendon Burchard’s tip; each night write down two ‘notes of gratitude/appreciation’. They can be to other people, or even to yourself; “I really appreciate how I took the time to meditate for five minutes today”.
How can you make being grateful and appreciative really obvious to you? Can you stick a post-it note up on your bathroom mirror perhaps, or add a reminder to your phone?
How can you make this habit attractive? Can you give yourself a gold star on your calendar each time, or share what you’re grateful for with a friend every week?
How can you make it easy? Can you keep a pen and paper on your bedside table, or set a reminder? Take out your list of habits from last month; can you “stack” your new habit and add it to something else you do (like brushing your teeth)?
How can you make it satisfying? If you write notes of appreciation, can you collect them in a jar to reread at a later date? Can you share the joy by giving your note to the person who inspired it?
There are times in everyone’s life when it’s incredibly hard to feel grateful. If you’ve just been diagnosed with a life-changing illness, if you’ve suffered a loss or bereavement, or if your circumstances mean that you’re just plain struggling right now - that’s completely normal and you’re not alone.
Gratitude can help you get through the tough periods of life, but they are still tough. So I’ll leave you with Dr Emmon’s perspective on how gratitude can help you through hard times;
“To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.
But it is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy.
Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points.
But being grateful is a choice. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve—but my research says it is worth the effort.”