Practices to Develop Gratitude

What are the components of resilience? Grit, determination, mental skills, mentally strong? Absolutely, but when I was first trained in Resilience I was totally surprised that gratitude was one of the fundamental skills. Not the first time my initial impressions were wrong when learning a new skill or set of skills.

Gratitude: a feeling of appreciation or thanks (online Merriam-Webster)

Gratitude is a both a virtue and a skill.  You can, and should, exercise this muscle to build strength, optimism, and resiliency.

Gratitude is one of the foundational concepts in resiliency. Resiliency training teaches how to develop gratitude through practice. Research has found that gratitude is tied to happiness. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude)

Additionally, research has found building gratitude has the following effects:

  • Seek/investigate for what is good: being grateful and optimistic rebuilds neural pathways. Building habits of seeking the good is a skill, not pollyannaish.
  • Fight the Negativity Bias: antiquated evolutionary by-product good for noticing and reacting to mortal threats, but less helpful when stuck in traffic on I-5 in 2017.
  • Remain realistic: by growing new neural pathways, you can bring more evidence to bear on problems, and create more strategies to solve these problems.
  • Identify what is controllable: understanding which of life’s many problems are worth spending your valuable attention trying to solve. World peace generally should be left to the idealists.
  • Maintain hope: literally improves your own immune system.
  • Have confidence in self and team: not only a better leader and employee, but more enjoyable to be around.
  • Feel better: who wouldn’t want to feel better more of the time?
  • Improve relationships: within your family, friends, and coworkers, optimistic, grateful people have meaningful relationships (also a component of resilience).

What are ways you can develop gratitude through practice?

  1. Write a thank you letter to someone who had a meaningful and positive impact in your life and deliver it to him or her in person. Try for one letter a month.
  2. Keep a gratitude journal: each day write 2-3 gifts you received each day. A cup of coffee, an easy commute, a kiss from your dog, a friendly greeting by a co-worker, etc.
  3. Thank someone with your ‘inside voice’. Much like loving-kindness meditations, this builds your gratitude muscle quietly.
  4. Call someone you have not spoken with for awhile and ask him/her how he/she is doing.
  5. Meditate or pray.

Above is a short ‘gym membership’ of practices on how to build your gratitude muscle. Please give them a try for the next 30-60 days. Just like building strength in your body, it does take a disciplined approach and extended effort to see lasting results.

My favorite quote about gratitude was from the Stoic philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all virtues.”

Next week I will write about how to incorporate strengths of character to help you not only survive tough times, but also thrive and be your best.