My graduate school mentor spent years pressing me and my classmates to “express appreciation” more often.  He taught us that this greatly underutilized skill holds important value in relationships.  I am very grateful to him for starting me down the pathway towards gratitude in life.  What I have learned through practice and further research is that being grateful fosters a deeper appreciation for myself, others, and the world.  Moreover, I have learned that gratitude improves immune functioning, reduces illness and recovery time, and increases life expectancy.  It fosters deeper and more meaningful relationships and increases overall satisfaction and happiness in life.

Gratitude did not come naturally to me.  I used to be far more pessimistic and critical.  Through consistent practice and some study, I learned effective skills that helped me develop a much more optimistic view of life.  Here are practices that I have learned:

Practice 2-1 Gratitude vs. Criticism:

We must accept and provide criticism in order to develop and grow.  Before making a criticism, challenge yourself to find two positive things about the person first.  This will challenge you to recognize and acknowledge a richer and more enhanced view of a person before asking for change.

Research shows us that humans naturally shift attention to problems in life and that when we successfully overcome the challenge, we shift our attention to the next obstacle.  This creates a habit of overlooking successes and positive attributes and only noticing what is “wrong.”  It also tells us that fostering gratitude requires deliberate effort and does not come naturally.  Practice helps to train our attention to what is “right” with the world.

Give:

Research shows us that there are all kinds of benefits to giving.  Giving creates space for us to think about the positive aspects of the person we are giving to.  It also fosters positive feelings in return from the person to whom you are giving.  Giving can come in the form of words, items, or time.

Exposure is Important:

When it comes to gratefulness, our environment has a strong impact on us.  Media is a strong resource that we have control over.  Avoid hateful or self-deprecating music.  Be careful about media that sells a cynical worldview.  Work with friends, spouses, and colleagues to balance criticism with gratitude so that you can experience an environment that supports your goals.  Remember that gratefulness is contagious!

Mindfulness Meditation:

Consistent practice of being mindful helps develop a more positive perspective on life.  Through acceptance and here-and-now awareness, we are able to engage more with our lives.  I have written more extensively on mindfulness in this article.

In my opinion, gratitude is an essential part of happiness.  Research shows us that it strongly impacts our health.  Most importantly, gratefulness is more than a character trait that cannot be changed.  Gratefulness is a skill that can be learned!  Find grateful people around you and model after them.  Also, talk with your counselor about gratefulness.  I would encourage you to spend your growth-oriented time learning this skill if you haven’t already.

Here are articles for more reading:

Social Anxiety

Attachment in Relationships

How to Achieve Goals

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