Telling people who mean the most to us
how thankful we are that they are on the planet does not come
Even if we consider expressing it, we often shrink in
In his Positive Psychology class 10 years ago, Martin
Seligman (professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the
father of Positive Psychology) created a “Gratitude Night” in which class
members brought a guest who had been important in their lives, but whom they had
never properly thanked. Each student would present a testimonial about the
person by way of a thank-you, while the guests would not know about the exact
purpose of the meeting. Students brought parents, siblings, friends and mentors
An example was Rachel, who said this to her mother: “Mom,
you... are the most genuine and pure-of-heart person I have ever met. Each time
you speak with a bereaved person, you begin crying yourself... you provide
comfort at a time of great loss for these people. As a child it confused me, but
I realized it was simply your genuine heart reaching out in a time of need.
There is nothing in my heart but joy as I talk about the most wonderful person I
It is with the utmost humility that you trance through life, never
asking for thanks, simply helping people enjoy their time with you.”
their evaluations at the end of the semester, it was not an untypical comment
from observers and speakers to rate that evening as “one of the greatest nights
of my life.”
What is gratitude? Robert Emmons’s book Thanks: The New
Science of Gratitude
defines it as “a feeling, a sense of wonder, thankfulness
and appreciation for life.” The appreciation could be in noticing your fortunate
circumstances, relishing moments with family and loved ones or thanking an
A key characteristic of gratitude is that it involves
focus on the present moment, an appreciation of your life today and what made it
It helps prevent you from taking the good things in your life for
granted – from adapting to improved life circumstances and expecting from other
people, rather than appreciating them.
It is important to understand how
that works to make you happier. Sonja Lybomirsky in her book The How of
lists five reasons why practicing gratitude makes you
Firstly, expressing gratitude bolsters your selfworth and your
self-esteem by helping you appreciate your own accomplishments and what other
people may have done for you. Secondly, it helps people cope with stress and
trauma by encouraging you to positively reinterpret negative life experiences.
Though challenging, to celebrate your blessings at moments of tragedy may be the
most important adaptive thing you can do.
Thirdly, grateful people are
more likely to help others. As they become aware of kind and caring acts, they
are more likely to feel compelled to reciprocate. It can build social bonds by
helping produce feelings of connectedness with others.
grateful person is a more positive person and better liked by others. Emmons
explained that by “being grateful you become truly aware of the value of your
friends and family members, and they are likely to reciprocate in kind.” Lastly,
it inhibits jealousy, because if you are thankful for what you have, you are
less likely to pay close attention or envy what the Joneses have. It also serves
to diminish negative emotions of anger, bitterness and greed.
gratitude is so wonderful, is there a simple, practical way of developing it?
The most well-documented and effective method is to practice gratitude on a
Choose a time of day when you have several minutes to step
out of your hectic life and are more inclined to reflect.
Ponder at least
three things for which you are currently grateful. These can be from the mundane
(flowers blooming) to exciting (child first walking) or fulfilling (proposal
Think of details of what happened, how you felt and the
appreciation you have for the people involved.
It is most effective when
done by writing a daily gratitude journal, but can alternatively be done
verbally or in thought.
If this is too personally challenging, you can
enlist a gratitude partner, a spouse or friend with whom you can share your
gratitude thoughts on a daily basis.
For the religiously faithful,
gratefulness should also be expressed in prayer to God. The challenge becomes
making each prayer unique and meaningful.
I would like to show my own
thankfulness and appreciation to Jerusalem Post
executive editor Amir Mizroch
for giving me the opportunity to share my insights in the magazine on a regular
basis, to Kevin for helping me edit things clearly and to you readers who often
write and tell me that they enjoy reading the column.
Thank you! The
writer is a Jerusalem based clinical psychologist and certified life coach who
helps teenagers, adults and executives achieve positive goals.