Grateful: How do you have an attitude of gratitude?

Yesterday was World Day of Happiness and since I began this journey last year, one of the key things that kept coming up in terms of happiness is gratitude as an attitude. Apparently learning to be grateful can help build kindness, empathy and therefore, in the long run happiness.

So how do we cultivate gratitude?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Michael Brian McDonnell, author of My Introvert Journey to Being Visible

Danny Sangha, Clarity, Alignment & Confidence Coach

Sukhi Wahiwala, award-winning mentor and Forbes-recognised entrepreneur

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Dr Robert Emmons speaking at the Greater Good Science Center:

Author Janice Kaplan speaks at Google:

Books looked at this week:

Dr Robert Emmons: Words Of Gratitude: Mind Body & Soul

Janice Kaplan: The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 17 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Yesterday was World Day of Happiness and since I began this journey last year, one of the key things that kept coming up in terms of happiness is gratitude as an attitude. Apparently learning to be grateful can help build kindness, empathy and therefore, in the long run happiness.

Michael Brian, author of My Introvert Journey to Being Visible, spoke to me about gratitude this week.

MICHAEL BRIAN

Our first book is from American psychologist Robert Emmons, whose field of study is personality psychology. In Words Of Gratitude: Mind Body & Soul, Dr Emmons writes “It is a feeling, a moral attribute, a virtue, a mystical experience, and a conscious act, all in one.”

Here is Dr Emmons speaking at the Greater Good Science Center 10 years ago:

ROBERT EMMONS

Dr Emmons says Gratitude can be a conscious, rational choice to focus on life’s blessings rather than on its shortcomings. How we can learn to express and experience gratitude depends on our personal religious perspective, our psychological makeup, and our level of awareness. He says the process begins with awareness that we have a choice. The next step requires a necessary stillness within ourselves so we can do the internal work of being grateful.

In a study by the psychology department at the University of California, Davis, one third of participants were asked to write about five major events that effected them, another third was asked to write about five stressors and the final third wrote about what they are thankful for. Compared to the hassles and events groups, participants in the gratitude groups felt better about their lives as a whole, they felt more alive and energetic, and they were more optimistic concerning the upcoming week.

There is a paradoxical aspect to gratitude as well: the more grateful we are, the more reasons we have to be grateful. While Emmons leans more heavily into the religious side as a scholar in the area, however, it definitely applies everywhere.

Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century Swedish scientist and theologian, wrote that those who feel love toward the neighbor are in a grateful sphere. Therefore, gratitude enables us to live in a joyful, peaceful state. Dr Emmons says Our response to these gifts can be an overwhelming sense of humility, wonder, and desire to give thanks and to pass along the love that has been activated within us.

Looking at Christianity, Judaism, and Islam he says each contain within them the element of gratitude as an essential part of religious practice.

He says there are three ways of cultivating gratitude – one method is a conscious psychological tool; another is a personal, creative path of self-expression; the
third method is a focused spiritual practice.

Psychologists have developed several methods to learn gratitude. One approach teaches the steps as: (1) identify non-grateful thoughts one has; (2) formulate gratitude-supporting thoughts; (3) substitute the grateful thoughts for the non-grateful ones; (4) translate the inner feelings to outward action.

He says another method, based on taking a daily moral inventory, uses the feeling of gratitude to help people foster moral growth and a positive outlook on life. The first step
in this method is to recognize that you are a moral person, a person of conscience. The next step is evoking gratitude for your blessings. Next, you conduct a self-examination of the day, then resolve to initiate some minimal behavioral change with the goal of increasing your moral maturity. Gratitude might be considered a “buffer” that allays embarrassment, shame, or other negative emotions that might undermine self-honesty.

All in all, setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with even mundane events, personal attributes, or valued people you encounter has the potential to infuse your life with cherished personal meaning.

Dr Emmons also recommends hournaling is a centering practice; it keeps you still and focused while you write in a special notebook or journal for any number of reasons: self-expression, creative exploration, or as a catharsis for emotional pain.

Another technique he suggests is the Buddhist Naikan practice, in which you reflect on three questions:

What have I received from ____________________________?
What have I given to ____________________________________?
And what troubles and difficulty have I ____________________?

These questions can help us address issues or relationships. They help us see the reciprocal quality of relationships and provide a structure for self-reflection. This practice of asking the three questions can be practiced each evening for about twenty minutes.

The second book is from American authorand magazine editor Janice Kaplan who wrote the The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, after she heard a woman gripe and grumble during a New Year’s Eve party. While reflecting on this experience, Kaplan realized that she herself had much to be grateful for, but frequently wasn’t. She resolved to “spend the coming year seeing the sunshine instead of the clouds.”

That self-declaration was the genesis of an inspiring yearlong experiment in living gratefully and concluding that being thankful really does offer a conduit to happiness. Here she is at Google five years ago.

JANICE KAPLAN

Throughout the year, Kaplan maintained a gratitude journal and wrote down three things that she was thankful for each day. She also said she wanted to “find one area to focus on each month—whether husband, family, friends, or work—and become her own social scientist. She wanted to see what happened when she developed an attitude of gratitude.”

One month, Kaplan instituted a “no-complaining zone.” Writing about the need to emphasize life’s positives over its negatives, Kaplan mentions, “If you can change something that’s making you unhappy, go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone, or inevitable, what greater gift can you give yourself than gratitude for whatever life did bring?”

She mentions an article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology evaluating all the literature in the field concluded that gratitude may have the highest connection to mental health and happiness of any of the personality traits studied. The conclusion: “Around 18.5 per cent of individual differences in people’s happiness could be predicted by the amount of gratitude they feel.” she even quotes Dr Emmons above, and recommends a gratitude journal as well.

Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says ruminating on what went wrong makes evolutionary sense. Our ancestors survived by remembering the one poisonous berry they encountered and telling their friends about it. Hence a gratitude diary turns out to be an antidote to our brains’ natural attraction to bad berries and bugs and our negativity bias.

Kaplan says psychologists call getting used to things habituation, which includes things to be pretty happy about. We get used to something—whether a husband, a house, or a shiny new car—and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place. Brain-scan images show that how we respond to something the tenth time we see it is very different from how we felt the first. She says we become entitled in relationships hence the need to revisit and appreciate people around you.

Quoting Dr. Brent Atkinson, professor emeritus of marriage and family therapy at Northern
Illinois University, he says: “If through gratitude, you create a positive mood, you reinforce the
brain pathways that will then generate more positive feelings. You can think of gratitude as a form of mental exercise that primes the mind for positivity.” This means creating new neural pathways.

Kaplan says she saw a marked improvement in her brain imaging scans by journaling about being grateful about her husband in one month, without forgetting to mention this doesn’t mean fawning over them over every little thing.

She even mentions my favourite stoic Marcus Aurelius from the third century BC, who believed we all have an inner power to clear away destructive emotions. He realized you can never be happy if you waste time frustrated by circumstances you can’t change. Hence her no complaining policy which made her feel happier.

Kaplan also talks about the gratitude diet where you appreciate your food more. This consist of Taking a minute to appreciate before any meal. This means mentally taking an Instagram picture of how wonderful your food is.
Sit down to eat—no matter what.
Fill up on gratitude rather than food.
Eat only food that makes you feel grateful (in quantities that make you feel good). Hence I limit myself to a square and a half of dark chocolate per day and put it in my porridge to make the taste and experience last longer.

Kaplan’s experiment substantiates that keeping a gratitude journal boosts your sense of wellbeing. With interviews on gratefulness with psychologists, friends, and other thankful people, The Gratitude Diaries encourages you to pause, take stock of your blessings, and be grateful for what you have in life in order to make life more pleasant, gratifying, and peaceful.

So to sum up:

In Words Of Gratitude, Dr Emmons actually suggests taking ten minutes to quiet your mind everyday, calm your thoughts, say a prayer if helpful, and simply let flow all the things that you appreciate in your life. Some practitioners suggest listing five or ten reasons why you are thankful, a simple practice. Another approach would be to let the feelings, joy, and thankfulness flow out of you— as poetry, prose, or artwork.

Whilst in the gratitude diaries, Kaplan recommends putting a Gratitude journal in a prominent spot on the side of your desk. Experts used to claim that it took just twenty-one days to form a new habit, but a
recent study out of University College London found most of us need more than two months and sometimes as many as six to make a real change in behavior.

I use the Gratitude app to make sure I note small things down, even if it’s just the weather is nice today. I also keep screenshots of every time I see a nice message in a Positive Bank folder. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything but other times, it’s great to look back on all the lovely things that happened in the week.

And to end on that positive note, here is Clarity, Alignment & Confidence Coach Danny Sangha and award-winning mentor, and Forbes recognised entrepreneur Sukhi Wahiwala speaking about being grateful. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!

DANNY SANGHA AND SUKHI WAHIWALA

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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