According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, gratitude is a “state of mind that we attain by affirming the good things that enter our lives and appreciating even the smallest pleasures.” In the recent past, gratitude has become a major buzzword in the field of positive psychology, with numerous books, articles and social media posts about gratitude and its countless benefits. According to mindbodygreen, practicing gratitude has been shown to:
- Increase happiness
- Improve self-esteem, resilience, and ability to deal with trauma
- Decrease risk of depression
- Heighten our immune system and decrease stress hormones like cortisol by up to 23%
- Decrease blood pressure and heart rate variability
- Increase work productivity and lead to a greater sense of professional success
- Increase sleep quality and sleep duration and reduce time to fall asleep
So we know that gratitude has a great deal of physical and mental health benefits, but how do we practice it? The website mindbodygreen posted an article called “25 Ways to Practice Gratitude“, with the following suggestions:
- Send a thank you card.
- Donate to a cause or company for their efforts to create a positive impact you support.
- Volunteer locally.
- Write in your gratitude journal.
- Recycle as gratitude for the planet’s resources.
- Accept compliments graciously.
- Give compliments genuinely.
- Talk about what you are grateful for with family (bonus points for reflecting on gratitude out loud).
- Give a generous tip for outstanding service.
- Be present — get out of your head and practice gratitude by valuing the moment you’re living right now.
- Give a gift, send a gift, hand-make a gift.
- Bless your meals and give thanks for the food that nurtures your body.
- Write a positive public review.
- Say thank you always.
- Pay it forward by giving out the kindness you received to someone else, and pass on the gratitude
- Call your parents (remember, they gave you life).
- Fill out a compliment card.
- Send personalized thoughtful notes: congratulations/thinking of you/get well/birthday.
- Pick up the bill when you’re out with people you care about.
- Text someone a personal note of appreciation out of the blue.
- Honor the success of others as you do your own successes.
- Go the extra mile.
Gratitude is a skill that requires practice. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, author of “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier“, there are three stages to practicing this skill: recognizing what we’re grateful for, acknowledging it, and appreciating it (check out this wonderful video called “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude” made and shown by cinematographer, director and producer Loui Schwartzberg at TEDxSF).
From a perspective of Buddhist psychology, however, gratitude is more about being than doing. It is a state of mind that doesn’t necessarily require any of the aforementioned behaviors or activities. Rather, gratitude is a shift in perception, and is something we must actively cultivate.
In “No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering“, world-renowned Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn talks about cultivating gratitude. He writes that just as we need to learn how to lean in to our suffering and cope with painful emotions, so too do we need to learn how to relate to our happiness. We can do this by “watering the seeds” of our happiness gardens; we must learn how to focus on the positive and see the world with fresh eyes, or what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind”. A shift in perspective – from negative to positive – is always possible. Many times we think of something as negative, labeling a certain situation as bad, stressful or difficult. But that same experience can be viewed through a more positive lens; expressing gratitude can help us find the good in almost any situation, seeing problems as opportunities to grow into our highest selves:
Be Thankful (Poem, Author Unknown)
Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.