An attitude of gratitude

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” – GK Chesterton.

As I write this article in the last months of 2021, I can’t help but reflect on the previous two years and how our lives have become dismantled. Prior to Covid-19, we had freedoms that we took for granted, such as hopping on a plane and flying to any earthly destination. But the pandemic demolished our innocence, and we had a new reality forced upon us. We’ve all had different challenges and perhaps found new ways to live, work, heal and learn. Perhaps we’ve become reacquainted with gratitude.

Gratitude involves the engagement of your senses. For example, after a long, dark winter, how blissful does it feel to turn your face to catch the rays of the emerging sun? Or relishing the warmth of being wrapped in a doona with a glass of your favourite beverage while the wind shakes the house and rain pelts the windows? The more you invoke your senses, the more your experience will be enhanced, and thankfulness follows.

My wife is a biologist and often lived in brutal, raw field conditions for extended periods. Yet she has this simple mantra she still repeats at the end of every day: “Warm… clean… dry… full belly… nothing hurts!” She knows that her basic needs are met and is therefore genuinely grateful. She remembers the deprivations of lacking basic luxuries that most of us in the developed world take for granted because she had spent so long shivering, stinky, soggy, starved, and sore. Nevertheless, even then, she was deeply thankful for the rare opportunities to travel to remote, inaccessible islands and to interact with magnificent wildlife, researching ways to protect them and make the world a better place. She had enough money for the basics, but little more. As a stereotypical nurse, I have been employed continuously for many years and don’t worry about when my next paycheque (or shower) is. Despite this disparity, Heidi has been happier.

You can feel gratitude in simple moments where you experience something satisfying, like having coffee with a friend and creating an intellectual or creative connection that leaves you both energised from the interaction. A smile, hug or handshake can convey so much.

There is a direct link between happiness and gratitude. Research suggests that to be grateful for the simple things is extremely effective in improving your sense of subjective wellbeing. With gratitude, you acknowledge the positive aspects of your life, creating more positive emotions, lessening anxiety, and feeling a greater sense of purpose. You then become more mindful and relish those simple moments. The more gratitude felt, the less room for negative thoughts. Research shows that people who can experience gratitude are able to push through adversities or traumas easier.

To gain the benefits from gratitude, practice it daily. Remember the turbulent times you toughed out and how far you’ve come – this sets up a contrast in your mind and gives perspective to the present moment. Watch your language – people who practice gratitude have a language style used by givers, the fortunate and those with abundant empathy. Smile – it’s a simple act and smiling at someone at the end of a conversation or when they‘ve granted a favour gives them a sense of gratitude, and you feel it too. Pick a time of day to actively reflect on these lovely aspects in your life and the contentment that results. Anchor yourself in the moment. Savour the abundance around you.

This article is not mandating how to be happy, as your life may be terribly taxing. But an attitude of gratitude may help you over that big obstacle that seems insurmountable. Your positivity is infectious and can affect people around you. Grateful people have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish in life. Remember to say thank you; remember to acknowledge other people’s efforts; remember to accept yourself; remember to volunteer and help others less fortunate.

So, pause now and reflect on what you cherish in this moment:

  • That first cup of coffee or tea in the morning, revitalising you for the day.
  • Having a job that gives you financial independence.
  • The kindness of a friend or colleague who helps with your workload.
  • A well-cooked meal, satisfying you in body and soul.
  • Your favourite music giving you goosebumps.
  • Sunshine, art, laughter, the ability to read, modern medicine, the right to vote, chocolate, indoor plumbing, new fuzzy socks, clean air, a friendly neighbour, spotting an aurora, holding hands – the list is endless!

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

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