“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
– Cynthia Ozick
When a person is asked what they’d do different if given a second chance and their response is I wouldn’t change a thing, this totally baffles me! Maybe it’s just me but there were several things I wish I handled differently. The most helpful shift has been to put judgment aside and look for the good intention behind seemingly negative behavior (especially of my husband and children). Looking for good (instead of focusing on negative) has made life so much more fulfilling.
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UC Davis is renowned for his research on gratitude. He says “gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” He offers the following tips to cultivate gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. Setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable life theme of gratefulness.
- Remember the Bad. To be grateful in your current state, it is helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced. When you remember how difficult life used to be and how far you have come, you set up an explicit contrast in your mind, and this contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.
- Reflect on Three Questions. “What have I received from __?”, “What have I given to __?”, and “What troubles and difficulty have I caused?”
- Learn Prayers of Gratitude. In many spiritual traditions, prayers of gratitude are considered to be the most powerful form of prayer, because through these prayers people recognize the ultimate source of all they are and all they will ever be.
- Come to Your Senses. Through our senses—the ability to touch, see, smell, taste, and hear—we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human and of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive. Seen through the lens of gratitude, the human body is not only a miraculous construction, but also a gift.
- Use Visual Reminders. Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. Often times, the best visual reminders are other people.
- Make a Vow to Practice Gratitude. Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed. Therefore, write your own gratitude vow, which could be as simple as “I vow to count my blessings each day,” and post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day.
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