I don’t know about you, but my gratitude mind-set is at an all-time high at the moment. In fact, it has been steadily increasing since March when the Corona pandemic hit Europe.
I was out to dinner with a friend when I was informed that all the opera performances at the theatre I was employed to sing at had been cancelled. I very suddenly and unexpectedly started weeping into my Vietnamese noodles.
My friend tried his best to convince me to look on the bright side and stay positive, which I am usually extremely good at doing. The implications for me at the moment of receiving this information were huge – in a financial sense more than anything else. How could all of my projected income for the next month just simply disappear? It seemed surreal. This one month has since turned into six.
We went for a walk to get some fresh air. Upon driving me home, my friend announced he needed to go the bank. He did so and promptly presented me with €250. He thought that in the coming weeks I might be needing it.
“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” - Lionel Hampton
So, what is the definition of gratitude?
Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful. It’s a readiness to show an appreciation for kindness and to return it.
How does this definition resonate with you?
Gratitude is a big part of my life. In tough times gratitude gives me the strength to sustain longevity and helps me to overcome what I first think I couldn’t. Gratitude is a journey.
I have a daily attitude of gratitude. My default setting is being grateful in advance. I know that for every interaction and every situation I will find something to be grateful for, something to learn from and something that will indeed increase the quality of the way I experience my life.
A gratefulness for past, present and future. Gratitude focuses on a positive mind-set. To me showing kindness is paying gratitude forward.
We have to accept that we all face times in our lives that are tough. Gratitude provides the cushion so that when we fall, we don’t fall all the way. It can be in the background even in difficult times and whilst it may not make the situation better it certainly takes the edge off a little bit.
Let’s explore what this means.
We have all had an emotional experience of gratitude but what does it mean on an intellectual level?
Studies have shown that gratitude can be deliberately cultivated and actually increase levels of wellbeing and happiness. In addition, grateful thinking and the expression of gratitude towards others is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism and empathy. Once we have said something we will go about acting in ways to continue to make that true. So, if we say that we are ‘so grateful for an opportunity’, we will go on and seek out ways to behave to continue to make that true, as if we are really grateful for that opportunity.
This is called the consistency effect.
It’s not only a lovely thing to say to someone but it assists you to drive your own unconscious mind to continue to view the situation through the lens of gratitude, rather than hopelessness or helplessness.
Gratitude is the single most powerful choice available to people who want to change how they are feeling or how they are experiencing the world. It has the power to shift relationships, increase happiness and radically decrease dissatisfaction, and it requires nothing more than shifting our thinking. The results can be far reaching and will impact every part of our experience of life. Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism, and reduced levels of stress and feelings of depression. A disposition towards gratitude enhances your state of pleasant feelings more than it diminishes an unpleasant emotion. This means that grateful people do not ignore the unpleasant or difficult experiences of life but they just have that ‘something’ that helps deal with those negative aspects better.
There have been multiple studies exploring the positive benefits of gratitude. The science overwhelmingly agrees that if you want to make very positive changes in how you experience life, then practicing being grateful just once a week will make a huge difference!
Professor Robert Emmons from the University of California in Davis, has been researching the benefits of gratitude for over 20 years.
Professor Emmons states that gratitude has two key components:
- An affirmation of goodness.
- A recognition of the source of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. We recognise that others have contributed many gifts in helping us achieve this goodness in our lives, which leads to feelings of being grateful.
The social dimension is important because it strengthens emotions in relationships. It requires us to see how we have been supported and affirmed by other people. Gratitude encourages us to appreciate gifts, repay them and pay them forward. Gratitude has been coined by the sociologist George Simmel as the ‘moral memory of mankind’. If I feel good, I have a moral responsibility to do good with that feeling - to pay it forward or give thanks back. It’s giving back thanks when you are experiencing the positive effects of being grateful.
It helps if the gratitude is authentic.
For as long as my children have been in the world I have been telling them about my year 9 Mathematics teacher and how he changed my whole concept of maths and limiting beliefs I had held regarding my mathematical abilities. Even after he was no longer my classroom teacher he always assisted me. During his recess breaks and free-time he always made himself available when I needed help. As a result of his teachings and belief in my ability, I went from a very average math student to the top of the class. Earlier this year I tracked him down to thank him. We hadn’t spoken for over 20 years and after an hour of delightful conversation he wrote me a heartfelt email with the following message - “I just don’t have the words to adequately express how excited, thrilled, ecstatic, swollen-headed etc, etc, I was after our long conversation last night. If only that feeling could be bottled and accessed often!”
I was thrilled that passing on my feelings of deep gratitude had brought him so much joy.
“No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” - Alfred North Whitehead
So, what happens when we’re in a situation like COVID-19 and we’re being faced with many different difficult situations and we’re finding it a challenge to be grateful for anything? From a personal perspective COVID-19 created challenges for me. Many people are dealing with loss of employment and income and experiencing financial stress. Also, feelings of isolation, particularly those in our community who live alone and don’t have access to things like social media or technical devices they can use to video call their loved ones. Or even those who live alone and do have the internet but thrive on physical social contact like hugs and kisses - the stuff that for many enhances their experience of life! Or there are people feeling overwhelmed with having to simultaneously work from home and home-school their children. These are but a few examples and I’m sure that you could come up with many more.
Here’s the spin off when something like this happens. The classic, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” phrase starts to ring true. CORONA made me realise how many things I am grateful for, which during Corona were not possible.
- To be able to meet up with friends and greet them with a hug.
- As a single Mum, to have the few precious hours to myself in the mornings when my children go to school.
- To be able to practice my art and be paid for it.
And yet there are many, many things that I am still grateful for:
- To have been able to earn something through sewing and selling masks.
- To those of my friends who, when they collected and paid for their masks, very discretely threw in extra cash.
- For those who sent messages to ask if I was ok.
- For my friend who agreed to perform two online concerts with me and for those who purchased virtual tickets.
- For the friends who offered to build me phenomenal websites and didn’t charge me a single euro.
- For friends who offered to proofread my eBook.
- For friends who took amazing professional publicity shots for me and waived their fee.
- And as always, for my beautiful and inspiring children. For their cuddles and kisses and amazing support.
These are just some of the things that have made my feelings of gratitude go flying off the charts!!
We count our miseries carefully and accept our blessings without much thought’. - Chinese Proverb.
Here are some suggestions that may help all of us appreciate what we already have and create a connection with the feeling we call gratitude.
Create a list of the things that we are grateful for
Doing this may involve revisiting times when we were really happy. Seeing what we saw, hearing what we heard and feeling the feelings we felt at that time. Really looking at the reason we felt that emotion and reconnecting with it. Think of the great things you have already done - go deep and connect with them emotionally. And then keep a gratitude journal that you write in at least once a week, or create a gratitude jar full of little pieces of paper with something written on it for which you are grateful.
Looking at individual areas of our life where we can be grateful.
Examining our relationships with a loved ones, friends and family, our careers, our health and our hobbies.
Examining what might be preventing you from feeling grateful.
Sometimes there are other emotions standing in the way that might prevent us from allowing the feelings of gratitude to flow. Anger, resentment or limiting beliefs.
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Imagine what life would be like without the things in your life that you value and sometimes take for granted. Or even recall bad times in your life and acknowledge how far you have come or the contrast to what you are feeling now as opposed to then.
Doing what makes you happy.
What are some things you love to do and what are the feelings you have when you’re doing them? Reconnect with the physical experience to remember the feelings.
Ask yourself what gratitude actually means to you.
Is gratitude a feeling, an action or kind words paid forward? Explore this for yourself.
Engage with others.
When you’re with family and friends before or during a meal get each person to name one thing that they were grateful for in their day. This is often the beginning of quality conversations and creates fabulous feelings of wellbeing for everyone involved.
Research shows us once again that the power of focus will help us with gratitude. Swinging our focus away from what we’re not feeling good about to what we are feeling good about in our lives helps to increase levels of gratitude.
Things will start coming to you that you hadn’t thought about before or previously noticed. As a performer, I am conscious of being grateful for the people who tirelessly work to make an opera performance run smoothly. The stage manager, dressers, people making sure our props are in the right place, those making the stage safe, the cleaners who create a dust free environment for us to sing in, the people who build the set and create smooth scene changes and every member of the orchestra playing to support our singing. So much to be grateful for.
“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” - Amy Collette
Why practice Gratitude? Hundreds have studied have documented the social, physical and psychological benefits of Gratitude. These benefits have proven to help anyone who practises gratitude even in the face of adversity.
Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Brings us happiness and other positive emotions
- Reduces depression
- Strengthens the immune system
- Encourages us to get more exercise
- Helps us sleep better, especially if we ‘count our blessings’ before we sleep
- Makes us more resilient
- Assists recovery from traumatic events
- Releases endorphins, serotonin
- Positively impacts our relationships
- Encourages altruism
- Blocks toxic and negative emotions
- Increases feeling of self worth
- Helps us to celebrate the present
All this brings us back to now. How do we practice gratitude in COVID-19 times?
Personally speaking I can acknowledge that COVID has given me many a sleepless night and a few things to worry about but it has also given me so much to be grateful for - apart from those things I have listed above, it has given me so much unexpected time. Time with my children, time to focus on my Coaching skills and business, time to stop and reflect, time to re-assess and time to breathe. Time to exercise more, and time for long walks with friends. The entire Life Coaching study that I was trying to complete alone online in Germany from Australia, was suddenly converted to real-time, online classes. This was a complete game changer for me. It resulted in me meeting some incredible people and receiving some phenomenal coaching, giving me a renewed laser focus. I have also made some fabulous new friends. I have so much to be grateful for.
Lastly, there are many ways that we can elaborate on a simple ‘thank you’.
Here are a few suggestions:
I appreciate what you did.
Thank you for thinking of me.
Thank you for your time today.
I value and respect your opinion.
I am so thankful for what you did.
I wanted to take the time to thank you.
I really appreciate your help. Thank you.
Your kind words warmed my heart.
I just want to say thanks for helping me with my project.
It was so nice to hear from you. Thank you for reaching out.
Thanks a lot for your help – I couldn’t have done it without you!
Thank you for reading my Blog to the end!
Why Gratitude is Good. An essay by Robert Emmons.
Pay It Forward. An Essay by Robert Emmons.
Learnings from The Life Coaching College, Melbourne.