It may seem like an odd time to be discussing practicing gratitude. The economy is a mess. Thousands of employees have been or are facing the possibility of being laid-off, outsourced or cut-back. Because of the uncertainty, many families anticipate drastically reduced spending on holiday extras such as presents and vacation travel.
Now, more than ever, is the best time to practice gratitude.
Why should you be grateful when it seems like things are at their worst? According to recent research, the practice of gratitude and appreciation can make you happier – and who doesn’t want to be happier, especially now? There are several reasons that gratitude makes you cheerier. Gratitude directs your thoughts to the positive aspects of living, so instead of concentrating on the dismal reports you read everyday in the newspaper or hear on the news, you concentrate on good news. A daily practice of gratitude, such as keeping a gratitude journal or “counting your blessings”, helps you live more consciously because it forces you to pay attention to what happens in everyday life. Gratitude and appreciation helps you stay in the present moment, because to notice blessings you have to block out worries about the future and regrets from the past. And, although this is not scientifically proven, counting your blessings seems to increase the good things that happen to you, if only because you are more attentive to them.
Lastly, if you want to keep your job, finding a way to be happy is a good idea. In a Harvard Business Review article from June 2005, authors Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo found that managers tend to favor competent and likable people over more competent but less lovable workers. Happier people are generally more likable and more enjoyable to work with than the opposite. In deciding who to lay-off and who to keep, it may be the workers who keep a positive outlook that managers view more favorably.
Here are some ways to practice gratitude and appreciation in your life:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Noticing and writing about the blessings in your life is a great way to keep your antenna tuned to the positive. You might discipline yourself to notice something new to give thanks for everyday – not just the same old things like your family, your home and your job. In my journal, I draw a star next to each entry on my list of appreciations. The stars draw attention to the things I’m grateful for.
- Give thanks in prayer or meditation. Some people incorporate gratitude into a daily prayer or meditation practice. An elderly friend once told me, “You just get down on your knees every night – right there next to your bed - and give thanks for all your blessings.” I’ve always remembered her words.
- Notice and remember Kodak moments. Remember the commercial about capturing “Kodak moments” by photographing them? Kodak moments are those memories that make you smile; they are moments of great happiness or fleeting appreciation. You might notice moments from your family life, you might notice the color of a tree’s leaves, a hawk slowly circling in the sky or a beautiful sunset. Observe the feelings you experience in that moment. Live with your eyes and heart wide open, looking for beauty and grace everyday. Take time to savor your Kodak moments as you notice them, and then write about them later in your gratitude journal.
- Notice and remember synchronicities. Synchronicities are coincidences that are moments of grace. An example of a synchronicity is when you think about someone and then receive an email or phone call from that person. I experienced a synchronicity today – I just happened to be working on my computer early this morning (Sunday) when a reminder for an unusual morning meeting popped-up on my screen. I had totally forgotten about my commitment, and if I hadn’t been at my computer I would have missed the meeting. I wrote about it in my journal, giving thanks for being able to keep my commitment to the people I met with.
- Appreciate others. Make a habit of noticing what other people are doing, and provide them sincere appreciation when they do something well or noteworthy. If you are a manager, you might write a note to one of your employees about something they did that you appreciate. Mail it to their home address so they can share your message with their family. Another way to appreciate others is to simply say thank you and acknowledge the good job that person is doing. My husband plays in a professional orchestra and went for years without hearing any feedback from the conductor. When the maestro finally told him that he had done a good job, my husband was ecstatic that someone had finally noticed his dedication and good results. A little appreciation makes both you and the person you notice feel great!
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for all the blessings in your life, and vow to start practicing an attitude of gratitude everyday. You’ll be glad you did!
 “Authentic Happiness”, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. Dr. Seligman has conducted numerous studies on positive emotions and finds that gratitude is one practice that helps people increase happiness.