Photo: Chris Buecheler
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie
As we head toward the New Year, many of us get focused on how what we want is different from what we have. We want to be slimmer and healthier. We want to have more money and better relationships. We want more time with our children and more satisfaction at work. We want to learn how to salsa and travel to Paris.
We focus on the future and put new bright, shiny possessions into it. We concentrate on all the wonderful things we’ll do, accomplish and contribute. And we fixate on becoming an improved version of ourselves: kinder, more aware, and super productive with better habits and sunnier dispositions.
But what about now? What about who we are now, what we’re able to do now, and what we have now? Many of us either ignore it or label it as “not as good” as what we want.
But over the past few years, there’s been some interesting research indicating that the more grateful we are for what we’ve got, the more we get of what we want.
Two psychologists have done a lot of research on gratitude and its effects, Dr. Robert A. Emmons from the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. They asked three groups to write a few sentences each week. Group A wrote about things that had happened during the week that they were grateful for. Group B wrote about things that had irritated them or that they didn’t like form the week. Group C just wrote about whatever they wanted.
After 10 weeks, Group A (who wrote about gratitude) self-reported that they felt more optimistic and better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on irritations and what they didn’t want in their lives.
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested various psychology interventions on over 400 people. In the week when they were instructed to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for a kindness, the participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, a much greater impact than any other intervention. The benefits lasted for at least a month.
Higher scores on a happiness test is nice, but does that have anything to do with achieving our goals for the future?
Researchers reviewed 255 studies about life success and happiness in over 275,000 people a few years ago which was published in Psychological Bulletin. They found that happier people tested higher in characteristics that lead to enhanced success such as a positive perception of themselves and others, creativity, highly social behavior, a strong immune system, and effective coping skills. They also reported that happiness led to success rather than the other way around!
This makes sense from an energy perspective as well. Like attracts like, right? Most of us know that if you focus on what you do not have and what you do not want, you exude an energy of lack and disappointment. Not good. But as you focus on your bright future, are you unconsciously belittling where and who you are now? Is there an implied “not good enough” in the way you feel about your current situation?
I invite you to experiment with a daily gratitude practice, similar to the one the researchers used: Sit down for 5 – 10 minutes a day and think about an area in which you have goals. Instead of writing about the goal, write with gratitude about that area as it is now. For example, if your goal is more income, write in gratitude about the income you currently have or your ability to make income (however slight it might be at this time). If health is your goal, write about the ways in which you are healthy. Are you able to breathe? Walk? Swallow? As you do this for a few days, notice how your overall attitude shifts to be more positive — and along with it, how your ability to pursue the future improves.
Gratitude is a choice. Allow yourself to make that choice and feel gratitude for even the smallest aspects of your current life.