Moving Forward: Thanks for your gratitude

“Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude” – Albert Schweitzer.

Gratitude 311 (photo credit: The Sacramento Bee/MCT)
Gratitude 311
(photo credit: The Sacramento Bee/MCT)
Telling people who mean the most to us how thankful we are that they are on the planet does not come naturally.
Even if we consider expressing it, we often shrink in embarrassment.
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 to thank.
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 know.
It is with the utmost humility that you trance through life, never asking for thanks, simply helping people enjoy their time with you.”
In 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 important teacher.
A key characteristic of gratitude is that it involves focus on the present moment, an appreciation of your life today and what made it so.
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 Happiness lists five reasons why practicing gratitude makes you happier.
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.
Fourthly, a 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.
So if 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 daily basis.
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 accepted).
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.