The Being & The Doing EPISODE 14:
What You Don’t Know about Gratitude
Gratitude is not just the latest new age fad. Research shows that a regular gratitude practice can make us happier and healthier. In this episode I debunk a few myths about gratitude and challenge you to change your thinking about counting your blessings. You’ll learn a few simple gratitude practices that you can start using today.
*A full transcript is posted at the bottom of this page.
13 Inspiring Gratitude Quotes
Here’s a blog I wrote that shares some of the key elements of gratitude.
15 Simple Gratitude Practices [free download]
Click Here for the free download.
Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Dr. Robert Emmonds
Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Selegman
This Episode’s Homework
Something to think about:
What is the thing that I most take for granted?
Something to try:
Pick one of the practices that I mentioned – doing a gratitude journal, paying attention to how you say thanks, appreciating what you take for granted or writing a note of thanks or modeling with your kids or co-workers. Or check out the other practices included in the download. It’s not enough to have an attitude – you need to have some action behind it.
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CREDITS: The Being & The Doing podcast is produced by Neela Bell. Voiceovers by Jason Harris. Music is GoodMorning Sunshine by Yoav Alyagon and Firefly by Scott Buckley.
Full Transcript of the Show
Intro: Welcome to The Being and The Doing, a podcast about well-being and the practices that help us have more calm, focus, purpose, and presence in our busy lives. Here’s your host, author and life coach Laurel Vespi.
Laurel: Hey lovely ones welcome to Episode 14 of The Being and The Doing. Today it’s all about gratitude, what it is, why you want it and along the way, we’re going to tackle a couple of myths too and maybe even have you challenge your thinking about gratitude a little bit.
So let’s begin with debunking the idea that gratitude is some kind of new age phenomenon. The idea of gratitude has been around for a long time; yes, even before Oprah started talking about gratitude journals, a couple of decades ago. Cicero and Seneca who are ancient philosophers, thousands of years ago thought gratitude was a crucially important virtue. A virtue that was foundational to a successful civilization and virtually all major religions hold gratitude as a virtue. So this is not a new concept thought up by the self-help industry.
Now before we go any further, let’s define gratitude. The dictionary defines gratitude as the state of being grateful. Well, that’s not particularly helpful, is it? I was always told that you can’t define a term using the term.
So what is grateful? Well, appreciative of benefits received or thankfulness. Okay, that’s a little bit better. We might then define gratitude as an appreciation for goodness or the blessings in our lives.
Now, I think it’s time for an important qualifier because sometimes when we say what something isn’t, it helps us better understand what it is. So some things that gratitude isn’t; gratitude is not a task.
Yes, there are activities that help us stay connected with our appreciation for all kinds of different things but when we try to schedule our gratitude, we miss the point. So the activities are simply tools, they’re not the end game and they’re also not a one-size-fits-all thing. So if you’re not a gratitude journal kind of person that doesn’t mean that you’re hooped in the cultivation of gratitude, there are many ways to recognize and acknowledge and tap into your blessings.
So gratitude is not a task. It’s also not an attitude. You know this is a particular sticking point for me because I’m often seeing magnets or bumper stickers or coffee cups or t-shirts or whatever that say something like ‘have an attitude of gratitude.’ Well, that gets it wrong too. An attitude is how you feel about something and it reflects your underlying beliefs.
Gratitude makes me feel warm and fuzzy or it makes me feel deeply connected or like however it makes you feel. You might believe that life is abundant and you’re blessed. An attitude is important, but it’s not sufficient. You have to turn that attitude into action or it’s just another fridge magnet. So if gratitude is not a task or it’s not an attitude, what is it?
Well, gratitude is a practice. Yes, you need to have an attitude a particular state of mind or perspective; a way of looking at the world that has to do with being grateful or blessed and you need activities to engage in but on their own, they’re just not enough. In order to truly reap the benefits you need to view gratitude as a practice, a way you repeatedly and consistently approach life that weaves its way throughout your day.
So think of practice as the way in which you demonstrate your beliefs and knowledge and attitudes through your actions. Not as a list of things to do but rather as a way of engaging with the world with gratitude. A practice allows you to mindfully infuse your day with gratitude through simple gestures and activities that over time, become habits or just your way of approaching the world. And in that way, you can appreciate your life as it is today and all of the blessings that make it so.
I’m going to leave a link in the show notes to a Blog that I did with some great quotes and photos that capture some of what I think are the most important elements of gratitude if you want to dig into that idea a little more. Now, even though the understanding of the importance of gratitude has been around for a long time and gratitude can still have that fluffy feel to it, it still sometimes feels like it’s the fad of the day and that’s why research into gratitude becomes really important. Because there is a growing body of research on gratitude practice and its benefits. One of the world’s leading experts on gratitude is Dr. Robert Emmons. He’s a Professor of Psychology at the University of California Davis and along with Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, they have done a ton of research on gratitude.
They’re finding suggests that gratitude has a bucket load of benefits. It magnifies positive emotions and it blocks negative ones, it cultivates resilience to stress, it leads to higher self-esteem. Participants who take part in their studies who are engaged in gratitude practice has had a more positive mood and greater satisfaction with life. And when it comes to health, gratitude practice actually improved participants sleep; both the amount of sleep that they had and the quality of their sleep.
So let’s just stop right there. If I told you there was something that research suggests makes you happier and healthier, wouldn’t you want to try it?
In one of the studies, participants wrote down things they were grateful for during the week. Essentially, they were doing a gratitude journal and after 10 weeks, they reported feeling more optimistic and better about their lives, that’s great. You know, often we want the quick fix, don’t we? We want it to happen now.
So if you are participating in a gratitude writing activity, and there are lots of variations on that from gratitude journals to writing thank you notes, don’t be surprised if you don’t dramatically feel better immediately after writing it. It’s not like ‘oh, put my pen down.’ or ‘whoo, I just feel so much happier and more satisfied.’ You have to be patient and remember that the benefits of gratitude take some time to kick in. You have to stick with it for two or three months to start feeling the effects. You can read more about Dr. Emmons work in his book, ‘Thanks: how the new science of gratitude can make you happier‘ and I will put that in the show notes for you.
In positive psychology research, which is led by Martin Seligman, he’s a Psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, he finds that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. His findings suggest that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, enjoy good experiences more. So you’re having a good experience and you actually enjoy it more. That their health is improved, they’re able to deal better with adversity and build stronger relationships.
Now, of course, studies like his can’t prove cause and effect but most of the studies published on this topic, support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being. So in other words, they can’t say that gratitude causes happiness, but it’s definitely correlated to it or associated with it; more gratitude, more happiness.
Now in his book, Dr. Seligman’s book ‘Authentic Happiness‘, which I’ll put that one in the show notes for you too, he recommends spending five minutes a day writing letters of gratitude to loved ones or people you appreciate or have made a difference in your life. Now, you might feel a little awkward about that and most people do and that’s partly because we’re worried about how is that letter going to be received? But people typically underestimate the positive effects that this kind of note would have. The studies actually suggest that most recipients of a gratitude letter are actually thrilled to receive it.
So gratitude is a good thing, one that is supported by research. So then, why is it not woven into our lives? What is it that gets in the way of us practicing gratitude? And I’ve got five reasons I want to share.
Number one; yeah, we’re busy. We don’t feel like we have the time or we don’t want to take the time to pause and pay attention to these blessings. ‘Yeah, I’m blessed, It’s good, I don’t have the time. I got a long to-do list. Have you seen it?’ So we’re busy.
Two, we have that darned old negativity bias, you know, I’ve referenced that before. It’s just the way that our brains are wired that are negative experiences are stronger. We pay attention to the more and they last longer. So as a result, we don’t pay attention to positive things like gratitude as much, we just skip over them.
Now there are a few other, perhaps, darker things that get in the way and I want to challenge you to listen to them as I list them and resist the urge to say, ‘Well, that’s not me’ and instead, what I want you to do is ask, ‘what part of this is like me sometimes?’
So the third one is that gratitude recognizes that someone else contributed to our success. We’re saying thanks for being appreciative of something someone else has done or provided to us. And really, we don’t like to give up credit. There’s a part of us that just wants to be self-sufficient and that’s the part that says ‘well, I don’t need help’. Do you have a part that says ‘I don’t need help’? Gratitude requires our acknowledgment that we didn’t do it on our own, it takes a village; no, not really, more like it takes a metropolis.
Number four; sometimes we don’t want to count our blessings because we don’t want to tempt fate. Like there’s somehow a limit to the blessings that you get. Now, that comes from a scarcity mindset that there’s a finite amount of blessings that a person can have. And sometimes we find it hard to accept gifts, even if they’re like gifts from the universe. It sort of pokes at that part of us that says, ‘maybe I’m not worthy’ that says, ‘maybe I don’t really deserve all of the abundances in my life and so, okay. I’m just not going to make a big deal about acknowledging it because oops, it might go away’.
And the last one; is that sometimes entitlement gets in our way. We feel like we’re owed things from other people and therefore, we don’t have any reason to feel thankful because it’s owed to us. So entitlement, in this case, sounds like ‘I worked hard for this’ or ‘I deserve this’ or ‘it’s their job’. And all of those things may be true and you can still be grateful. Your gratitude doesn’t take away from your hard work and your accomplishments.
So maybe I’ve convinced you that gratitude is a good thing but that’s not really enough. It’s not enough to know that there’s this growing body of research that’s proving that gratitude is more than just this kind of feel-good experience. That it actually helps us manage stress and boost our immune system and enhance our relationships and generally makes us happier and more satisfied with life. It’s not enough. Knowledge is a good first step but if you don’t do anything with that information, then it’s pretty much just a waste.
But before I give you some ideas, some action items, some things that you can do with this knowledge, I want to tackle one more myth about gratitude. And that myth is that gratitude cannot coexist with suffering. Now, sometimes people have this idea that gratitude is for people who have it all going on, people who are already happy and prosperous and have security and it’s just all good and so, they can indulge themselves in gratitude. And it’s kind of unrealistic that people who are experiencing profound personal loss or like light their life is just a Gong Show, then it’s unrealistic for them to practice gratitude, which really means like, how can you possibly be grateful in the midst of a tragedy?
So it seems to me that sometimes, it’s the people in the midst of the most horrible situations who tap into the spirit of gratitude the best. Each person comes to that in their own way and their own time. And I’m not saying that when life goes sideways that your first thought should be, ‘Oh, let me stop and count my blessings’, I’m simply saying that it’s possible that adversity and gratitude are not mutually exclusive. There can be hurt and sadness and grief and disappointment and also gratitude. So in some ways, deep gratitude is not for the faint of heart. What can you do right now? Well, I’m going to leave a link in the show notes to a list of 15 simple gratitude practices, but here are a few of them for you to get started with.
So number one, yeah, do a gratitude journal, lots of research on it and you can do it any way that you want. The usual thing is about writing down three things that you’re grateful for at the end of the day, but I’m going to give you a slightly different spin on it. So instead of doing that, try writing one new thing each day. So essentially, you’re making a list and you can’t repeat yourself. So today you write down something that you were grateful for appreciated, tomorrow you’re going to write down something else. Write down more than one if you want, but tomorrow you have to write down something different, which has a few benefits. One, your list becomes much more nuanced.
So it’s not just sweeping, ‘I’m grateful for my family’. As time goes on, you’re going to get much more specific about what it is that you are grateful for about specific people in your family. And it makes you pay attention differently because you’ve already got all these things on your list and now you’re paying attention to other things. So you have to look at the world differently in order to collect up other things that you are grateful for or appreciate. And it makes us beautiful record of things that now when you go back, you begin to see this growing well of an abundance of blessings in your life. So do a gratitude journal, whatever way that you want, but try that one thing, new thing, every day.
The second thing you can do is try saying thank you with more attention. So when we say thanks, it’s often just this autopilot response, right? It just is kind of this automatic thing that we say and we’re not really thinking about it. So pay attention when you’re about to say thank you. Like catch yourself and pause for a moment and can you name for yourself what you’re thankful for and then go ahead and say thanks. Or if you don’t catch yourself before okay, no problem; pause afterward and ask yourself, what were you really acknowledging? So for example, ‘thanks for holding the door’ really might be ‘thanks for your kindness’, I’m actually acknowledging that person’s kindness. You’re not saying that out loud to them, it’s just an exercise that’s going on in your own mind.
Number three; now this gets at our sense of privilege. And yes, we all have privilege. Now, the best definition of privilege I’ve heard is about the things that we take for granted. Privileges about the things that we take for granted, the things that we actually don’t have to worry about. Anything you don’t have to worry about is part of your privilege. So one kind of gratitude practice can actually be centered on acknowledging our privilege.
Well, the first one is that you’re alive. Like that is just a privilege that you are breathing in, breathing out and you are alive. You know, often we stop, we forget to acknowledge the things that we’re really accustomed to.
So begin by saying thank you for something that you don’t usually express thanks for. Like small routine mundane things because often it’s not until it’s gone. You know, there’s a power outage,’Oh darn, you know, I flipped a switch and there’s no electricity’. Well, that’s a privilege; it’s a privilege that I live in a place where electricity is pretty much available to me all of the time. Unless there’s some random power outage and I can forget that because it’s part of my privilege, I don’t have to worry about, oh, yeah.
In parts of the world, electricity is a scarce thing and you may only have it for an hour a day. Or maybe it’s the privilege of bigger things like freedom or living in a safe neighborhood or having food on your table. I have the privilege of never having known food insecurity, never. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from and I’ve never had to worry about how I’m going to feed my kids; that is a privilege. And so, being able to acknowledge our privilege and express our appreciation to ourselves for just naming it, wow, it’s another way to count our blessings and a really powerful way to do it.
Now, if you’ve got kids, maybe take a moment with them before bedtime to ask them to think about something that they’re grateful for, for themselves and you can model it for them by sharing something that you are grateful for. Let’s start teaching the next generation how to tap into the benefits of gratitude. Maybe it’s something you start doing at work. Wow! Imagine if you used a couple of minutes in a meeting, every once in a while, for people to be able to acknowledge their appreciation and blessings for things that are going on at work?
For now, let me leave you with a little ‘being and doing’ homework. Always, we want to have a little bit of homework because it helps us lock in our awareness a little bit and to take some action. Because again, knowledge is a great thing but unless we’re doing something with it, it really doesn’t matter.
So grab a pen and write it down or you’re going to find it always in the show notes. Here we go, something to think about. What is the thing that I most take for granted? Might have to think about that for a minute. And as you’re thinking about things that you take for granted, you might find out, well, wow! There’s a honking big long list of stuff that I actually take for granted. Things I don’t worry about, things I don’t have to pay attention to because it’s part of my privilege. What is the thing that I most take for granted?
Now, your something to try; just pick one of the practices that I’ve mentioned. Do a gratitude journal or pay attention to the way in which you say, ‘thanks’. Like what is behind that autopilot ‘thanks’ that you’re saying. Or maybe appreciating something that you normally take for granted. Something small, something mundane, something routine or writing a note of ‘thanks’ as Martin Seligman talks about. Writing people notes of ‘thanks’ or starting to model with your kids or modeling with your coworkers.
It’s not enough to have an attitude of gratitude. Lovely, have an attitude of gratitude, but it’s not enough. You have got to put some action behind it. And I do want to express my deep appreciation for you taking the time to listen to the podcast and I really mean that because I know your time is precious, and I know you’re busy, so I want to acknowledge that you shared some of your time with me. So, thank you.
Got clutter? Then you are going to want to tune in to the next episode which is the first of a three-part series that I’m going to do on managing clutter. Not just the junk in your basement, yep, we will talk about that but also the clutter in your mind and your heart too. So be sure to tune in to learn about why you’ve got so much stuff and what to do about it. And until then lovely ones, pause, breathe, be grateful, and enjoy your day.
Outro: You’ve been listening to The Being and The Doing with your host, Laurel Vespi. If you liked this episode and think other people would, please subscribe, rate and give a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to tune in next week for another conversation about The Being and The Doing. Thanks for listening.