Have you noticed how happy people are naturally grateful? How they can survey their lives and find so much joy in the little corners of their world? And how incredibly annoying they are when you yourself are not feeling happy?
We now have fantastic scientific studies that show the positive benefits of “an attitude of gratitude.” Research by, among others, Emmons (check out his book “Thanks!”) and happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky have shown that practicing gratitude is one of THE most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction, and it boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and many other positive emotions whilst reducing anxiety and depression. Many parents I work with would nod their heads sagely about how important gratitude is in their lives, yet time and time again, I would realise that they were sinking down in misconceptions and misunderstandings about the nature of gratitude. The result despite all the studies? Nothing. Nada. Nichts. Nil.
For example, one client told me how she was lying in bed feeling totally miserable. She then tried to switch on her gratitude in an attempt to lift her mood. She turned and looked at her darling husband snoozing beside her. She started to think how lovely he was and how lucky she was to be married to him and have a wonderful family. Did she feel any better? Quite simply: no! Because she was not experiencing gratitude; she was lying to herself in an attempt to feel better! In that moment, her depressive thinking told her that her life was far, far from nice, and we do have a tendency of believing our thoughts, don’t we? We can’t lie our way to gratitude!
This is the key to finally putting to rest the misunderstandings of gratitude. If you are in a low mood and try to use thinking about concepts to feel grateful, your chances of success are really low. What are concepts? Funnily enough, these are the things that we are often told to be grateful for: a roof over our head, parenting, marriage, family, career, etc. These are ideas that we have created as a society, over time, that have been given value and are deemed “good”. The problem is that we rarely see these concepts as they were intended: our thinking gets in the way. “Family” can bring a smile to some and a feeling of horror to others, depending on how they think about it. And what on earth is a “roof over your head”? Can you see it? I can just see the ceiling of my apartment, what about you? Whenever we are told to be grateful for this “roof,” should we go outside and stare at it? How does this make us feel better? These concepts are what those annoying happy people give thanks for (because when you are “up” everything looks pretty fab). When you are down, they make no sense at all and will not help you feel better and get the gratitude vibe going.
So if you are just starting out on your journey with gratitude, it makes sense to start a lot smaller. Your thinking will be blocking your ability to experience gratitude, so let’s get out of your head! Gratitude is our natural state of being: it is always there, but we are constantly talking ourselves out of it. So how do we bypass our constant critics? The constant chatter in our heads? We search for the things around us that are beautiful and amazing just because they are sitting there, minding their own business and asking nothing of us in return for them shining their light into our lives.
Look up from the screen for a moment. Look around the space that you are occupying. What, in your space, is pleasing to your senses? Big or small or absolutely tiny. Let it be something of the world of form, something that positively lights up your senses. Have you found something? For example, a pleasing mug that looks amazing or simply feels nice in your hand?
Gratitude is a memory of the heart. – Jean Baptiste Massieu
Right now, as I sit here, the light from my lamp is hitting an abandoned tiny and shiny silk bag. My thinking wants to tell me a story about how my daughter never cleans up her stuff, but I know not to pay much attention to that burble. I am more interested in how the light is making all the gold-coloured stitching twinkle and shimmer. It is such a small thing yet so full of delight. When I have such an experience, my thoughts begin to marvel about what is before me, which in turn triggers the feeling of gratitude.
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward
So the next time the world gently taps you on the shoulder and shows you something beautiful and amazing, be like a child and stop to enjoy it. Savour the experience. Let the feelings of gratitude, amazement and delight fill you, moment by moment, and happiness will naturally come along for the ride. This is the true secret to gratitude.
Happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. – Denis Waitley
By Tammy Furey
Tammy is currently writing her book The Gratitude Papers in between running a coaching practice for parents, blogging, giving workshops, presenting talks and of course, being a parent. Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com.
Illustration by Lara Friedrich
Lara has been a freelance illustrator for Mothering Matters since early 2013. She is in her second year of University where she’s currently working as an assistant in a research project in pedagogy. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, as well as being a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop.