“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
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
Gratitude is worth the effort.
Making time to appreciate yourself and other people is difficult. From a distance, appreciation doesn’t seem to offer much. Gratitude doesn’t pay the bills. Gratitude means giving without getting anything in return. At the same time, society guards us against appreciation. We have been scared into thinking that appreciation is a warning signal. Unsolicited compliments conjure images of conmen and used care salesmen. We ask, “What does this person want?”
Appreciation is never a mistake. When it comes to complimenting others, most people hold back because they’re afraid of coming off as slimy or insincere. And when it comes to appreciating their own strengths and personal victories, these people are afraid of sounding arrogant or self-centered. Understand that gratitude is always good. You will never regret showing gratitude to yourself or someone else. Gratefulness acts to open your mind, steady your heart, and connect you to others. It also connects you to the present moment. You can’t be worried and grateful at the same time. It’s impossible to be focused on what you’re thankful for and concerned about what you don’t have simultaneously. Counting your blessings will always bring your attention back to what’s possible, rather than what’s lacking.
Replay Past Victories
I used to guard myself against gratitude. I thought appreciating the past was useless. After all, it’s in the past. It’s gone. Outie. Not here and it’s never coming back. I also used to overvalue restlessness. I thought that maintaining a constant state of dissatisfaction was the only way to keep my internal fire lit. I was afraid that being content with my past accomplishments, or being satisfied with my current lot in life would slowly disintegrate my ambition. Eventually I learned that this kind of continuous discontent can close you off to opportunities and limit your future. Frustration is a powerful motivator, but so is appreciation. The key is that, unlike frustration, appreciation can be expressed continuously without any ill effects. Gratitude can help you fulfill your purpose in life while acting to improve your health and increase your happiness.
In the book, Thanks! How The New Science Of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Robert Emmons discusses a study where he and his colleagues divided participants into three groups, each of which made weekly entries in a journal. The first group listed five things they were grateful for, the second group listed things that caused them stress, and the third (control) group listed any five events that influenced their lives in any way. The study found that people in the gratitude group felt better about their lives, were more optimistic, and had fewer health problems. These people also reported getting better sleep, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed in the morning. If you don’t have time to keep a journal, simply make a one-time list of all your past victories. Write down past achievements and experiences you’re thankful for. Tape the list to your bathroom mirror and read it to yourself in the morning. I started doing this two years ago and its had profound effects on my mood. Reading my list centers me on my purpose in life and instantly helps me increase happiness and improve self confidence. Here’s the short version of my gratitude list:
Appreciation paces your heart. Gratefulness has been shown to steady your heart rhythms, giving them a more stable, coherent order. Conversely, stressful emotions like anger, fear, and guilt discombobulate your heart rhythms, making them erratic and disordered (see below figure from Advances In Appreciative Inquiry). The good news is that you can change the rhythm of your heart in seconds by changing your focus to things you are grateful for. And this change is infectious. Have you ever been around someone whose mere presence makes you feel better? People might say that this person lights up a room or is the life of the party. Somehow she seems to infect people with her good mood. It turns out that this person’s heart may be the cause of this infection. Studies from the Institute of HeartMath show that your heart emits an electromagnetic field that extends up to five feet from your body. This heart field is 60 times stronger than the electromagnetic field emitted by your brain and can literally envelop people standing near you. In fact, your heart’s electromagnetic field can influence the rhythm of other people’s hearts. You can actually change the pace of other people’s hearts by being positive and appreciative. It also means that other people can change the pace of your heart. Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with grateful hearts, not hateful hearts. And make sure your own heart is grateful. Use gratitude to increase your happiness and increase happiness in those around you.
Rattle People With Gratitude
Engage people with carefree and credible compliments. Everyone is starving for positive attention. Studies show the human brain has a negativity bias and is 12 times more likely to retain negative information than positive information. This means the average person needs to be complimented 12 times more often than he is criticized just to stay centered. The problem is that most people are very quick to offer unsolicited critiques but very slow to offer unsolicited compliments. Appreciating other people is not easy. Gratitude requires vulnerability. Saying something nice to someone, especially a stranger, involves exposing your emotions. Unnoticed or unappreciated compliments are uncomfortable. No one wants to look stupid or be ignored. And no one wants to be annoying or come off as a kiss-ass. The trick is to simply not care. Understand that appreciation and expectation don’t mix. The only way to engage others through appreciation is to not expect anything in return. Treat a compliment as a gift, not a loan.
Gratitude relies on credibility. A good compliment takes effort. Most of the time, you will have to actively search for something nice to say. By default, our brains lock onto negativity. But you can train yours to automatically sniff our positivity. Practice with politeness. Simply taking the time to say “please” and “thank you”, type “I hope your day is going well” or “How are you?” in an email, or hold the door open for a stranger will strengthen your appreciation muscles. This practice is also a good way to develop leadership skills and improve confidence in those around you. Get in a habit of finding things to appreciate. When you are interacting with someone, ask yourself “What do I like about this person?” Are they wearing nice shoes, unique earrings, cool glasses, or a clean shirt? Are they doing their job well, speaking well, or being helpful in any way? Do they have a nice voice, curly hair, straight hair, brown eyes, green eyes, blue eyes …you get the picture. Take the time to notice something legit, state your compliment as a fact, and immediately move on in the conversation without expecting anything in return. The other person won’t forget it. In my next post, I will discuss the power of getting pissed off.