The Gratitude Plan
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Author William Arthur Ward once said, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Gratitude is a unique quality of being entirely thankful for what you have, as well as always being ready to appreciate and help others. Gratitude is one of the primary keys to living a happy and prosperous life. When you show gratitude, you are content with your life and positive about all that it has to offer.
Almost every day, we say “thanks”. We absentmindedly tell it to the grocery store checkout clerk and to the barista at our local coffee shop, but are these sincere expressions of gratitude, or merely a response we've been conditioned to give? A simple "thanks" can have a powerful impact on both the person sharing appreciation and the person receiving it. This is even more true when a genuine emotion of gratitude backs the word.
The Roman philosopher, Cicero, described gratitude as “the greatest of virtues and the parent of all others. It is the key that opens all doors and is the quality that makes us and keeps us young.” This statement, spoken more than two thousand years ago, is quite compelling, and speaks of gratitude as a virtue or quality of being. Gratitude is just this and so much more. Gratitude is also an emotion: something we feel deep in our hearts. We can feel it toward others, when people are grateful to us, or when we see a person express gratitude toward another. As a sentiment or an exchange between people, there is simplicity to being grateful. Gratitude is an emotion, it is an experience, and it is a conscious choice for awareness. Connections in our relationships are both strengthened and fostered with gratitude. At its core, gratitude holds an experience of universal belonging. We can feel a sense of overall well-being when we intentionally practice gratitude in our lives.
Gratitude as a State of Being
Take a moment and shut your eyes and try to recall a time when you felt appreciated. Remember this event as if it were happening at this very moment. What words did you hear? What did your body feel like at that moment? What triggered the experience? What were you thinking at the moment? There isn’t just one definition of gratitude. Gratitude has been conceptualized and defined in the context of attitudes, emotions, morals, traits, habits, and even coping techniques. Gratitude is without a doubt, an incredibly complex and dynamic emotion. It is a skill that contributes to the satisfaction in relationships and human excellence.
Gratitude in Our Relationships
Many of us have stopped being consciously aware in our lives. We may turn on autopilot and merely drift through life. Our brains and bodies have become so familiar with our routines that we put little thought or attention into our daily lives. We are busy making lists, recalling events of the day, checking social media, going to doctor’s appointments, or thinking ahead. We can miss out on nuances of our experiences in the process.
In fact, it is easy to get caught up in the hectic routine of everyday living that we may forget to express our appreciation to those who matter most to us. Take a moment to think about the relationships in your life and consider a time when you felt gratitude for someone. One of the most common mistakes we can make in relationships is the assumption error: we assume that someone knows what we are thinking or feeling, or believe that s/he should know. But, if we don’t tell people in our lives who are important to us that they matter, they may not know.
Being more grateful can have a ripple effect. When we share our gratitude—in kindness, words, or gifts—we nurture our relationships, helping them to grow stronger and closer. Knowing this, it makes sense to explore how we can convey our appreciation to those who matter most to us. While there is nothing wrong with saying, "thanks a lot," or "nice work," these expressions are often taken for granted and seldom convey gratitude as powerfully as we want. You can express your appreciation in a way that will foster connection in your relationships when you include these three things:
Observation - State what you observe, like holding a door open, washing dishes, or taking out the trash. These everyday actions make a difference, but often go unacknowledged. Just letting someone know that you noticed can make a world of difference to that person.
Feeling - Let the person know that what they did had a positive impact on you.
Need - The final aspect of sharing gratitude can be the trickiest. It can be difficult to acknowledge that we need others, but we do. We don't exist in little bubbles, and we are affected by those around us. Letting someone know that s/he was there when you needed someone helps you to build a stronger connection.
When you think about your relationships and opportunities for gratitude, don’t focus only things that people give you or do for you. It is just as valuable to share your appreciation for who someone is as a person. Let the people in your life know that you appreciate what they do for you and who they are. Take the time to comment on someone’s generosity, thoughtfulness, compassion, or just being who they are, and see how much happier you become in your relationships.
Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude has been proven to increase our capacity to feel other positive emotions, like love, compassion, humility, comfort, passion, and confidence. Cultivating gratitude can be a way to enhance these other emotions in your life. Another benefit of gratitude is that grateful people are more resilient and resistant to stress. When you are thankful for things in your life, you may be better able to move through challenges and difficulties. Gratitude helps us see our strengths, open our hearts, and experience the fullness in our lives. The good news is, you don't have to go through a crisis to find gratitude: it is there waiting for you every day. Gratitude can be learned. With practice, gratitude can be a choice, an intentional way of viewing the world. This is not to say that you should make light of difficulties or painful experiences, but you can choose not to let yourself become overwhelmed in these times, and to find a way to see beyond them. You can look with gratitude at what you learn about others and yourself when you are moving through hardships.
Gratitude Empowers Us:
On a psychological level, practicing gratitude lets us be happier, more positive, and more able to find joy and pleasure in everything we do. Showing gratitude for things we have and those around us has social advantages as well, because we become more generous and compassionate in our dealings with the world. Gratitude helps us on psychological levels—and also physical levels. Physically, practicing gratitude can help boost our immunity levels, which in turn can help reduce the likeliness that we will fall ill and let us stay more active. Gratitude teaches us to be grateful for all of the moments that make up our lives.
During this holiday season and the rest of the year, remember that gratitude has the power to dramatically transform your life—and is something you can quickly learn. As you notice the good in your life, and show gratitude for all you have, you will start to feel happier and more content. Gratitude will allow you to become more hopeful for the future and excited to see what life has in store for you.