Gratitude – what is it?
Gratitude has become a bit of a buzz word. There has been an increased interest in gratitude and research into the effect it has both on those who search for and express it and on those who receive it.
However, it is far from a new concept. In fact, the Bible speaks many times about gratitude. “Put simply, thankfulness is recognising good things that have happened to you, and acknowledging the people who made those good things happen.” (1.) The Bible tells us to
be “thankful in everything, in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Really? In ALL circumstances? Surely not?
Well, why not? In all circumstances, there is something to be thankful for. Sometimes you have to look harder than others, but it’s always there. It’s all about the colour of the tint on your glasses and the mindset you look out to the world with. Are you observing from a scarcity or an abundance point of view? It’s the filter you choose to place on the world. And yes, YOU get to choose that filter.
“When building our gratitude practice, we’re shifting our mental focus in our brain from things in jeopardy to what’s going well. After enough practice, we start taking better care of ourselves and, by nature, we also take care of others. Plus, it feels good, and there’s a stronger reconnection with ourselves intrinsically. The bottom line is that gratitude is the fastest way to change our definition of reality.” – Tofe Evans (2)
April 18 Gratitude Challenge – others’ observations
During April, 2018, I set out to complete a gratitude challenge and invited others to join me. Our goal was to find things to be grateful for daily and to express gratitude to another person at least once each day. Verbal expressions of gratitude, handwritten notes and cards, text messages, small gifts and tokens of appreciation were some ways we chose to achieve this. We stuck with this for a month and many of us intend to continue in a less structured way indefinitely.
One participant confided she was “feeling better about my life and things in general because I’m looking for the good things all the time instead of complaining about the bad things.”
Another emailed to let me know “it was great just to be reminded to be grateful.” Don’t we all need that reminder from time to time?
A friend who participated in another gratitude challenge explained how it had helped her begin to break through her crippling anxiety, as her focus was shifted away from everything she was afraid of to positives in her life. She was surprised to discover just how many there were.
Yet another lady was excited to see the response of those she thanked. She made an effort to give specific praise and express gratitude more explicitly to those she came into contact with each day. Not only did the recipients enjoy receiving gratitude but she also felt good for making them feel good. A win-win for all involved! How awesome is that?
Gratitude Challenge – my discoveries
I began the month full of enthusiasm and raring to go. I decided to tell/ text someone my gratitude daily and send a card or give a small gift once a week. I managed to keep to my goal most of the time and did a few make up days to keep me on track. The private group kept me accountable and I shared my failings to keep it real. I believe I am generally a grateful person, although this has not always been the case. However, focusing on gratitude made me appreciate more what others did for me in many areas of life. Gratitude really does provide rose tinted glasses. When looking through these glasses, everything seems better. Granted, I didn’t suffer any major setbacks during the month of the challenge but I did have the usual ups and downs associated with everyday life plus a few extras associated with beginning a new contract in a new workplace.
As is often the case, once I was focused on gratitude, it raised its pretty little head everywhere. A radio station I listen to in the car discussed how gratitude changes your perspective and improves your outlook. A book I read credited gratitude as a major factor in developing practical resilience (2). A happiness workshop I attended at just after the challenge spent a large portion of the time discussing gratitude. A grateful gift pack popped up on my Facebook feed which I just had to buy myself. (Thus the photo of me in my grateful T.)
April also marked the beginning of a new school term. I introduced a Friday gratitude spot into the class timetable with my year fives. Each Friday, students rate their happiness, complete an emoji to express their current feelings and complete entries for ‘something I am grateful for this week’ and ‘how I have used challenges to help me grow this week’. The entries are personal and private, unless voluntarily shared and I make no attempt to peek at them. At the conclusion of the gratitude spot, volunteers can share anything from their page either with their elbow partner or the whole class if they wish. Students have shared about being grateful for time spent with friends, receiving gifts, doing well on an assessment and playing with pets amongst other things. Imagine my feelings at the conclusion of my first week a boy shared he was grateful to have “such a nice teacher this term.” He was a student the teacher had flagged as being especially nervous about meeting me, so it was lovely to hear his fears had been allayed. It would be fair to say my heart melted; I think I was walking on air for the rest of the day. A simple expression of gratitude can have a profound effect on both the giver and the receiver. I have long found expressing gratitude to a class for working hard, completing a complex task or simply having a great day boosts everyone’s confidence as well as encouraging a healthy work ethic, as long as it is genuine and earned.
During the April 18 Gratitude Challenge I was surprised to discover that although I love to express gratitude to others, I’m actually not very good at receiving it. I was blessed to receive a lovely handwritten card and a couple of private messages during the Challenge. I was taken aback and a bit embarrassed. I certainly hadn’t expected that. I think I could have been really uncomfortable if this had been expressed in person. Why? In the past, I haven’t received many expressions of gratitude. Teachers are notoriously taken for granted and praise is rare, usually outnumbered many times by complaints or indifference from students, parents and the general public. Whilst my husband’s clients may thank him for reducing their tax bill, my efforts and achievements are often less tangible. Likewise at home, Mums do their job and rarely get properly thanked by their family. It’s easy to feel unappreciated – this has been my experience in the past, so I’m not accustomed to being praised or feeling appreciated. I believe we need to be sensitive to others when expressing gratitude, especially if the message is a very personal one. Handwritten notes or quiet words in private are preferable to a public affirmation for some, whilst others bask in public attention. Gauge your audience and choose the best way to express gratitude to each individual. As with all things in life, expressions of gratitude do not suit a one-size-fits-all approach. Once I got over my embarrassment, I loved the feeling of being appreciated and having others feeling grateful for something I had done. It made my day and boosted my confidence. It also made me want to do more to help others, thus having a cyclical effect. Imagine the potential snowball effect this could have if we all express gratitude to those who help us in daily tasks. For example, a checkout operator does a great job packing bags efficiently, so you let her know and thank her explicitly, saying something like “thankyou for packing my bags so efficiently. Nothing will get squashed or fall out” rather than a simple “thanks”. They she feels good about herself and tries harder at her job or is more friendly to customers. This, in turn benefits others and may assist the checkout operator to secure a promotion down the track.
You just don’t know the run on effect your simple expression of gratitude could have. The smallest thing can have huge and far reaching impact. At the very least, you’ll make someone feel appreciated for a moment and might just make their day.
What are you grateful for today?
1. Feature silhouette image available from Page Turner Dictionary Prints here.
2. Grateful t-shirt available from Sister and Soul here, along with a wide range of grateful bracelets and pendants.
3. Jeffrey Krantz – Thankfulness in the Bible: the top scriptures on gratitude. overviewbible.com. Viewed 6/5/18.
4. Tofe Evans – Everyone Has A Plan Until Sh!t Hits The Fan, Lioncrest Publishing, 2018. Get the first chapter free or order the complete book here.