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When was the last time you were grateful, truly grateful, for everything you have? If it’s been a while since you counted your blessings, take note: science has proven that gratitude is good for your health and can even heighten your quality of life.
The word “gratitude” has been thrown around a lot. New-age gurus and motivational experts are always harping on about the importance of gratitude, but what is it exactly, and why is it something we should all practise?
Be thankful – even for the bad stuff
Gratitude is, very simply, thankfulness, appreciation, and acknowledging everything that you receive. Your job, a roof over your head, your family, your friends, the food you eat and the clothes you wear… These are just a few of the many gifts that most of us are blessed with – yet we tend to take them for granted.
But gratitude is about more than appreciating only the good stuff. It’s also about being thankful for the mistakes we’ve made, the tough lessons we’ve learnt, the bad experiences and the setbacks – because, these are, after all, the very things that make us stronger and push us to be our best selves.
Taking a moment to express gratitude also allows us to shift our focus from the things that are not going well in our lives to the things that are going right (and you can surely find at least one thing in your life that’s good!). No matter how bad your life seems there is always something to be thankful for and optimistic about.
“I started cultivating an attitude of gratitude in my mid-20s,” says Grace Lim, a 32-year-old accountant. “I used to be so fixated on my problems – everything from not having money and time to do the things I loved, to the issues in my romantic relationships and the stress I experienced at work. But really, when I thought about it, my life far from sucked. I made a list of the things and people that I was grateful for and was surprised when I came up with over 100 different items. It made me realise: How did I ever think that nothing in my life was going right? This exercise really transformed the way I perceived everything I was going through at the time.”
How gratitude changes your life for the better
Grace may not be too far off. Many studies have, in fact, strongly associated this “attitude of gratitude” with mental and physical wellbeing. In other words, gratitude is not pop psychology; it’s a science.
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is one of the world’s leading authorities on the topic of gratitude. For over a decade now, he has studied the transformative power of thankfulness and appreciation, and has solid evidence showing that people who view life as a gift are happier, more productive and more inspired. They also experience better emotional and physical health, enjoy more positive relationships, and are better able to deal with crises. Without gratitude, Emmons says that life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished. ““Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energises, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude,” he stated in his best-selling book, Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
In 2003, researcher Philip C Watkins from Eastern Washington University published a series of studies that revealed a number of specific traits of people who expressed gratitude. These included feeling a sense of abundance instead of deprivation, feeling grateful for even the smallest and simplest pleasures in life – thereby feeling happy more frequently, and acknowledging other people’s contribution to, and involvement in, their emotional wellbeing.
Yet another study, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist from the University of California, Riverside, found that gratitude fosters and enhances happiness and other positive emotions. Appreciative people were also believed to be more energetic, more helpful, more hopeful, more forgiving, and less depressed and resentful.
10 creative ways to practise gratitude
More than just experiencing a positive emotion, Emmons encourages you to cultivate gratitude consciously – and regularly. Don’t wait until something good happens to you before you start feeling thankful. Instead, look for things to be grateful for. Once you get into the habit of doing this, you will stop taking even the simplest pleasures for granted and start finding the good in negative situations.
If you’re stumped about where and how to adopt an attitude of gratitude, these ideas can help. And none of them involve writing in a gratitude journal.
- Look at everything as a gift. Whether it’s a lift from a friend, a home-cooked meal from Mum, or even precious me-time at the gym, turn everything that happens to you or that you receive into a gift. Take nothing for granted.
- Thank someone. Don’t hesitate to say thank you – and mean it – to someone who has helped you or whose presence in your life you cannot do without. A handwritten note will make the gesture a bit more personal.
- Donate to an organisation that’s doing good. If there’s a charity or organisation that you think is doing a particularly great job, show your appreciation for its work with a cash donation.
- Start the day being thankful for your job. If you typically start the morning bitching about your work or boss, or feeling depressed about being in the office, stop. Spend the first five minutes of your day feeling genuine appreciation for your job, your colleagues, and your steady income.
- Post something positive on social media for a change. Complaining on Facebook and Twitter accomplishes nothing. Start posting only appreciative messages on your social media accounts and you’ll soon notice a difference in the way you feel.
- Learn to appreciate yourself. Every time you look in the mirror when doing your hair and makeup, say thank you to yourself – be grateful for your features, your sense of sight, and all the unique traits that make you, you.
- Make a list of all your achievements, both personal and professional. Don’t hold back when writing this list. By the time you’re done, you will be pretty impressed with yourself. Look at the list daily and be thankful for all your gifts and talents.
- Tip for good service. Tipping may not be customary in Singapore but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show appreciation for excellent service when you dine out. If you can’t afford to tip, tell the wait staff how thankful you are for their professionalism and friendliness.
- Keep smiling. Expressing gratitude doesn’t have to involve saying thank you all the time. Let it show on your face – smile whenever you encounter someone nice or experience something positive. Smiling is contagious!
- Go to bed thankful. Even if you’re not spiritual or religious, it helps to count your blessings silently before you drift off. You’ll go to sleep feeling more satisfied with how your day went – even if it didn’t quite go as planned.
Want more words of wisdom? Then take it from 7 of Singapore’s most successful women, who tell us the one piece of advice they wish they had known earlier in their careers