Consciously cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to increase happiness and strengthen relationships with others. Research shows that increased happiness and closer bonding with others lead to better physical and emotional health. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against depression and anxiety. Gratitude should be valued far higher than it currently is in society.
So, what is gratitude? The Cambridge English Dictionary calls it: ‘the feeling or quality of being grateful’, and ‘a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something for what the person has done to help you’.
It can also be described as an attitude of appreciation and thankfulness for what one or more people have done to cause the recipient to feel grateful. It is frequently used in the phrase: ‘a debt of gratitude’. It suggests a connection between people – a feeling of being obliged on the one hand, and on the other of putting someone under an obligation. But the connection can also be with Nature or the Universe as in being grateful for the simple beauty of the natural world and life’s ordinary pleasures.
The term ‘debt of gratitude’ is sometimes confusing. It means ‘a state of being extremely grateful or appreciative’. A ‘debt’ puts us under an obligation and may be viewed negatively as a burden, at least until we can repay the favour. But a debt of gratitude gives rise only to positivity. One is not bound to return the favour to the person to whom one is grateful. Being grateful gives rise to a joyous feeling, and makes one want to ‘give something back’ to society and the world. Giving back can be a random act of kindness. A debt is normally incurred, but a debt of gratitude may be felt even when one gives. One may, for instance, appreciate the opportunity to give. Cultivating gratitude leads to greater positivity in outlook and lessens feelings of negativity.
Gratitude can be cultivated in several ways, including:
- taking a mindful walk, preferably in Nature – especially helpful in times of stress.
- Writing a gratitude journal, recording a daily list of a few (one is a good start) modest objects, experiences, and people, to feel grateful for, e.g. a bird came to my windowsill. (Try varying the list each day.)
- Remembering, listing and writing thank-you letters to a few people who have nurtured, mentored and guided you. Repeat the exercise, with heroes from History and Literature.
- ‘Giving back’ by volunteering and doing small random acts of kindness, e.g. paying a stranger’s bill, and giving someone flowers.
- Meditating on each family member’s and friend’s good qualities, then selecting someone to whom you will verbally express your appreciation for their presence in your life.
- Viewing life’s blows as challenges to learn from and be grateful. Consider past challenges you overcame or learnt from, struggles that made you a stronger and richer character.
- Appreciating your efforts to cultivate gratitude and reflecting on the profound benefits that they can bring.