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Things to be Grateful For
It’s become a well-accepted concept that practicing gratitude, whether it’s internalized or externalized, can have a number of positive psychological effects. Multiple studies found that people who express gratitude experience overall better well-being and higher levels of positivity whether they started out with mental health issues or not.
A heavily discussed facet of gratitude is exactly what it means to have gratitude in the first place. There are many definitions of gratitude offered by a variety of experts, but they all center around an appreciation of the things you receive, tangible or intangible. As it turns out, there is actually quite a lot of professional literature about gratitude, what it means, the benefits of practicing, and how we can practice it. However, by comparison, the articles that describe exactly what we should be grateful for are nowhere near as professional or studied.
Looking up things to be grateful for will result in a great number of articles and lists ranging in length from 5 to 1000 things, but unlike the other aspects of gratitude, what you won’t find are studies. There’s nothing bad about the articles you’ll find, but compared to the other texts about gratitude, they seem to lack substance. Many of them remind me of the lists that teachers made students write for Thanksgiving. Teachers would ask their students to write a list of things to be grateful for and almost without fail, each student would return a half-hearted response starting with things like life, water, and family before making its way down to the everyday trivialities like desks, pencils, erasers.
No one takes those Thanksgiving lists very seriously, and similarly, those articles don’t get much credit. In a way, this is understandable. Gratitude is usually associated with generous acts of charity, meaningful gestures, or acts of tolerance and mercy; is it really fair to extend the same feeling of deep appreciation to the trivial? Perhaps not to the same extent, but in every other sense, absolutely. Half of those articles and student lists may seem to be made up of silly trivial things, but when you give it a moment of thought, you realize that you can’t call any of those things completely wrong. The little things may be little, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving of gratitude. After all, what’s wrong with appreciating a cup of coffee or a humble pencil?
It’s the Little Things
Part of the reason we should be grateful for the little things that make our lives just that little bit better is that it’s exactly those little things that truly make a big difference. On the flip-side, there is actually professional research that shows how small, every-day annoyances will affect us.
Research done by Daniel Gilbert describes the Region-b Paradox. Essentially, when people have truly distressing experiences such as the death of a loved one, betrayal, or something else of the sort, their rationalization skills kick in and effort is put into recovering from it. However, when someone experiences only slightly distressing experiences, like not getting the right cup of coffee in the morning, your mind doesn’t feel the need to kickstart those rationalization skills and you get angry.
Although not as broad, there is also research to support the positive side of the little things. Studies and data analysis carried out by relationship experts writing for Psychology Today discusses how husbands who kiss their wives goodbye each morning are likely to earn more money, have better health, have better marriages, and overall, are much happier. The relationship is not causative, but the fact remains that something as small as a kiss can make a significant difference for the better. The same concept can be applied to many other small actions. It’s not uncommon for something small and nice to make someone’s entire day.
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
― Germany Kent
Thanks a Thousand
The idea that the little things in our lives oftentimes aren’t so little is the subject of an entire book by. A.J. Jacobs. Thanks, A Thousand tells the story of Jacobs’ mission to thank everyone who was involved in making a small, but important part of his life: his morning cup of coffee. His quest took him months to complete and had him flying across the entire globe to thank delivery drivers, factory workers, bean farmers, and everyone in between. His story is an inspiring one and becomes another great example of how beneficial showing gratitude can be, but what we also have to take away is that the intricate and detailed process it took to make Jacobs’ cup of coffee is the same one used to make yours and similar for every other little luxury of modern-day life.
Altogether, there’s a strong case for why we need to show gratitude for the little things in life as well as the big ones. But for some, that might not be a satisfactory answer to the question of what can we show gratitude for? We’ve established that almost everything that doesn’t directly make your life worse (small or large) is worth giving gratitude to and also that showing gratitude in one form another brings tangible benefits.
Everything considered the best answer I can suggest is to show gratitude for as much as you can, even, being alive or for the things that make you feel alive.
How Can We Be Grateful?
Now understanding that things deserving of gratitude are almost ubiquitous, how can we actually show or practice gratitude?
Once again, there is actually a good deal of expert opinion on this. Many studies conducted to find the benefits of showing gratitude relied on showing gratitude through writing. Writing a simple list of what you’re grateful for or even a letter going into detail or directed at someone has shown to be an effective method of showcasing gratitude. According to research, these thank-you notes don’t even need to be delivered for the benefits to work.
Even if telling someone about your feelings of gratitude is not necessary for you to feel better, it’s better perhaps to share those feelings whenever you can. This could be as simple as giving someone a nice thank-you note, a heartfelt smile, or even a quick and simple ‘thank-you’ as you pass them by.
These two forms of gratitude, writing, and directly communicating, can be incredibly meaningful, but are also largely common sense. If we want a full answer to the question How can we be grateful? I want to extend the answer to include doing something as simple as noticing all those delightful little things to be grateful for. It’s not much, but it just might be enough.
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