Sunday, January 3, 2016

Get the Gratitude Attitude

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I am reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and there is a scene in it when the author is eating a forbidden meal with two of her students. She wrote: "Who would have thought that such a simple meal would appear to us like a kingly feast? We must thank the Islamic Republic for making us rediscover and even covet all these things we took for granted... parties, eating ice cream in public, falling in love, holding hands.. laughing in public, and reading Lolita in Tehran."

She's on to something there. Taking things for granted can have the insidious effect of diminishing our gratitude in our daily lives. And this is not a good thing. To be grateful for the simple things in life can be a path to happiness. There actually have been several studies looking at gratitude and its relationship to depression and well-being. It seems that the more grateful we are, the less depressed. Which seems obvious right? If you have things that make you grateful, you probably have less to be depressed about, right?

But not so fast. These studies looked at people in similar socioeconomic situations. Meaning they looked at two men both without jobs or social support or two women in high stress jobs making boat-loads. Now obviously they looked at many, many people but the researchers matched subjects and found that people who could find things to be grateful for were more happy and had better quality of life.

I'm not advocating for everyone to become Pollyanna's and going around like you have no problems. We all need to acknowledge and address our problems but what we can do is fine joy in living our lives. Even the worst life, in my opinion, is better than the alternative. If you take a moment to sit back and reflect I'm sure you can find things that you truly are grateful for.

Can't? Well, try one of these strategies:

  • It seems too simplistic, but be open to the world. What I mean by this, is allow awe and joy to reach you. Don't close yourself off to the world. If you are open to experiences, good ones will find you. 
    • Respect joy. Joy is not something that happens instead of something else important; it isn't a waste of time; it is, really, what time was invented for.

  • Meditation: One way to instill gratitude is through meditation-specifically loving kindness which involves habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of your life and then extending that to others. For those of you who are religious, prayer(not rote memorized prayers but genuine expressions of thanks to the god of your choosing) also instills gratitude and happiness. 

  • Write a List: Write a list of 3 things that are good about your life or at least that have gone well recently. 
    •  Once you've got a hang of the list, try writing a gratitude journal where you go into more depth on how those good things have affected your life. 
      •     One study found that even doing this for 2 weeks can significantly help reduce depressive symptoms in people seeking psychological treatment!

  • Make someone else grateful: The world is full of kind people. If you can't find one, be one. Helping others can instill your own sense of gratitude and has been linked to self-esteem and happiness. 

  • Don't think one person or thing will make you happy. There are two ways to become unhappy: not getting what you want and getting what you want. If you make your gratitude and happiness based on achieving one thing(whether it's hinged to one relationship or attaining one goal), you are bound to be unhappy. Life is about diversity and sampling the full pallet of experiences. Let each new experience shape and expand your gratitude.

  • Get Outside. Nature itself has a calming effect on our affect, but also afford a plethora of opportunities to look around and see the awe-inspiring aspects of each of our (seemingly) mundane lives. 

  • Remember nothing lasts forever: Neither good or bad times will last forever and its their cycles that bring us joy and appreciation of life. If in a bad rut, know it will not last forever. 
    • Become an optimist. If times are bad, change your thinking. Optimists have an external attribution of bad times meaning they blame it on other things rather than some internal flaw.
Luckily, for most of us we can find gratitude without having worry about bombs dropping on us or corporeal punishment if our heads go uncovered. But we all could probably benefit from expressing ours, especially to the ones we love.

So thank you. I am blessed.

Until next time,


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