Oftentimes social norms dictate that you show gratitude for favors received. For most of us, this is ingrained in our behavior that expressing appreciation and saying “thank you” is an automatic response.
Do we actually feel thankful when we say “thank you”? Or experience the feeling of appreciation deep inside?
Not exactly. So, is that what gratitude is?
Why is it important to feel thankful? What are the benefits of gratitude practice? And finally, how to practice gratitude?
This article brings together everything about gratitude. Read on to learn a few powerful and easy-to-practice gratitude exercises.
Table of Contents
What is gratitude?
The dictionary defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Our expressions of appreciation and gratitude are often spoken words or actions. This is what gratitude is from a recipient’s perspective. When gratitude is expressed without the accompanying emotions, it loses its true meaning and purpose. It just becomes an automated response. Though it may evoke the desired result of making the person happy or feel appreciated, it need not do anything for the giver.
To derive the benefits of gratitude for self, it needs to be felt as an emotion. In simpler language, this means you have to be aware of the feeling and believe in it.
Without this, the words of gratitude are superfluous. It won’t serve the purpose of the giver and may not benefit the recipient either.
Why is gratitude so important?
Gratitude is a selfless act – something you are not compelled to do but do it because you want to. It can best be compared to a gift that is given freely without any strings attached. This uncoerced act is used as an expression of appreciation.
When someone does you a good turn and you express your gratitude through words or action, it acts as an encouragement for the person to continue the good work. This translates to more people benefiting and thus setting off a virtuous circle.
Gratitude is often contagious. When offered in the real sense with all the accompanying emotions, it boosts the happiness level and positive energy of the giver and the recipient. This prompts both to do more good deeds, thus spreading goodwill and positivity to a wider circle.
It is a win-win situation for everyone involved. The world would be a better place with more happiness, positive energy, and goodwill among people. As a matter of fact, this is the need of the hour.
The benefits of practicing gratitude
Gratitude expressed in the true sense offers multiple benefits to both the giver and recipient. More than anything, it drives both to help others.
Conveying your gratitude can give a big boost to your overall mental health. The feeling of gratitude makes you more happy, open-minded, friendly, calmer, and easier to get along with. It can enhance your positive outlook, thereby helping in alleviating negativity, anger, and depression.
Those who express gratitude are less prone to selfish and narcissistic behavior. It promotes forgiveness and acceptance of others as they are. It improves empathy and brings down aggression. It is a proven technique to raise satisfaction levels and improve relationships.
Gratitude is a mood enhancer and has proven its role in good sleep patterns. An increase in happiness is directly linked to a reduction in stress and anxiety and related maladies. People who feel thankful are more optimistic, have better self-worth, display better moral values, and have better control over their feelings. All these translate to less physical and mental ailments or a better life.
5 ways to practice gratitude
When something good happens to you or when you receive help from someone, you may not be in a position to express your gratitude fully because you were too stressed out, or too busy, or you were under a cloud of negative feelings.
Once things have calmed down and you feel the importance of the event in your life, you would be overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. It is never too late to express your gratitude. Revisit the event, experience its full impact, and let the other person know how you feel. This is beneficial for both.
Here are some gratitude practice ideas that you can take advantage of.
1. Gratitude letter
One of the most powerful of thankful exercises, a gratitude letter involves writing a hand-written letter to the person who has done you a good turn and you feel thankful to have in your life.
Relive the event/events that triggered the emotion in you in as much detail as you can gather. And put them all into your letter to the person. Describe the amazing act of kindness or magnanimous nature of the person.
Put into words all the wonderful attributes of the person. And how this gesture of goodwill helped you at a critical juncture in your life and reiterated your belief in humanity.
If you are staying close by or can make a personal visit, deliver this letter in person. Or else courier it. Make it spontaneous without prior intimation. The surprise element adds to the positive emotions in both yourself as well as the other person.
You may also write an email.
Some tips on how to write a gratitude letter.
- Address the person directly.
- Write as if you are speaking to the person. Don’t bother about paragraphs or grammar.
- Relive the event and describe your feelings as detailed and in-depth as possible.
- Explain how it impacted your life.
- Reveal how often you remember the event and the person.
2. Gratitude visit
You cannot express your gratitude better than this. When you are personally visiting the person, you have the choice to express your gratitude by talking about it without any preparation or by reading out the letter. Both are highly effective ways of conveying your feeling, though combining a gratitude letter with a visit has a slight edge.
When you reveal your feelings of thankfulness to the person, you will have the added advantage of observing the reactions of happiness and contentment in them. This would probably be the only thing you will get out of the act.
Watching the person’s joy and pride to have helped you, your energy vibrations are bound to skyrocket. The same happens for the other person as well.
When you realize how good this gesture makes you feel, you would be inspired to help others. In fact, the gesture serves as a great inspiration to repeat the act of kindness for the other person as well.
This simple act of giving thanks can spread so much goodness in the world. Besides this, expressing gratitude can help you overcome negativity and bad feelings as it prompts you to relive the joyous event.
When you are feeling down or depressed, you should jog your memory and remember events in life that you are thankful for. You may not have expressed your gratitude well at the time. Maybe you did not get an opportunity, or you feel you did not convey well enough.
Better late than never. Use this opportunity to reveal your feelings and as a consequence raise the positive energy of all concerned.
In case a personal visit is out of the question and you find couriering a letter too impersonal, you may arrange a phone call or a video chat with the person.
Some pointers to make the visit more fruitful.
- Plan a visit with the person. Just tell them that you want to share something but be vague about what you want to share.
- When you meet the person, reveal your gratitude and request some uninterrupted time to read out the letter or talk about it.
- Read the letter unhurriedly, taking in the emotions of the person and yourself.
- Once you have finished, listen to the reaction of the person. Discuss the event.
- Gift the letter to the person.
3. Gratitude journal
Writing down your feelings is always a great way to maintain the focus on the things at hand. The goal of this activity is to scan the past few days or weeks and focus on 5 events you feel grateful for.
You may set aside a fixed time and place for journaling. Setting and atmosphere are important to get the maximum out of this exercise. It is equally important that you are undisturbed for the duration.
You may not find it easy to focus in the beginning. With practice, you will find it more natural and effortless.
A great way to boost the productivity of this activity is by imagining your life without the people, things, or events that mean the most to you.
The frequency of this activity may be daily or weekly to suit your convenience. It is important to do this exercise as an enjoyable and voluntary activity and not as a monotonous or forced one. When it becomes a tedious task, something that you should do rather than want to do, it will lose its purpose.
At any point in time, if you perceive the activity as boring or unpleasant, you should do it less frequently.
4. Gratitude meditation
Meditation is considered one of the most effective methods to enhance mental focus, raise positivity, and increase productivity. By combining it with gratitude, the outcome has exponential benefits.
Gratitude meditation is slightly different from regular meditation. In normal meditation, the focus is to keep the mind still and empty, whereas, in gratitude meditation, the goal is to visualize the past events in your life that you are grateful for.
When there is more than one person or event you want to focus on, give each one of them enough time. You should move your focus from one person or event to the next only after you have finished it. If you skim or race through all of them hurriedly or haphazardly, the entire point of practicing gratitude exercises is lost.
Meditation is not an easy activity to practice for beginners. Mind control and focus don’t come easy. Remember no pain, no gain. With patience, perseverance, and persistence, there is nothing you cannot master.
5. Gratitude vision board
A Vision Board is a collage of images that you place in such a way that you come across them often during the day. A gratitude vision board would have only images related to people or events in your life that you are grateful for.
A picture is worth a thousand words. There is so much truth in this. The mere action of gathering images can be an exercise on its own. It will take you back to the event that still evokes feelings of gratitude in you. This is an instant mood booster.
You may use a pin-up display board to mount the images. This way it would be easier to change them. Just like in the case of a gratitude journal, you may do this once a day or week or whatever frequency you are comfortable with.
Showing gratitude is as important as the feeling itself. When you let the other person know how their selfless act changed your life, you end up boosting their positive energy, which in turn raises yours.
The simple act of saying a heartfelt thank you can spread so much goodwill around with its ripple effect. Ultimately, when you choose to reveal your feeling of gratitude, you are doing your bit to make the world a better place for yourself as well as others.