It’s time to change your focus from what is ‘out there’ to what is ‘right here’ – from what might be to what is – by practising gratitude.

We spend a lot of time and energy chasing an idea of ‘the big happy’ – that dream house, the perfect partner or the pots of money that we believe will sort out all our problems. But they either don’t materialise or, if they do, bring more stress to our lives. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to change your focus from what is ‘out there’ to what is ‘right here’ – from what might be to what is – by practising gratitude. You’ll be surprised how much happier you are once you’re in the habit.

Gratitude means being thankful, being willing to show appreciation for and to return kindness. It involves being actively – and consistently – grateful for what you’ve been given, noticing life’s everyday blessings and finding a positive lesson even during difficult times. In other words, it means acknowledging what you have, and not what you don’t.

Dr Robert Emmons, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology and professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis in the USA, has been researching the effects of gratitude on mental and physical wellbeing and relationship health for more than 15 years. His studies have involved people from the ages of eight to 80, and the findings have been ‘overwhelming’, he says. Being truly grateful helps us to become healthier and happier; it builds relationships and deepens friendships; it reduces the need for material possessions; increases our ability to cope in hard times; helps to build good memories; and reduces feelings of envy. And, apparently, it makes us look better too! ‘Gratitude is a social emotion,’ explains Emmons.

It strengthens relationships ‘because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people… This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify goodness in our life.’ He adds that true gratitude involves humility; it’s about acknowledging what people do for us and what we can do for others. It makes us gentler and more open to blessings. And the beauty is that the more you express gratitude, the more you will have to be grateful for. The trick is to be consistent and make it a daily practice.

There are a number of ways to do this, regardless of your religious beliefs.

1. Keep a gratitude journal
Spend 10 to 15 minutes each day writing down the blessings you’ve experienced that day, the qualities in yourself and in others you value, the people you love and why. Emmons believes this allows us to weave a ‘sustainable life theme of gratefulness’.

2. Revisit your senses
Remind yourself of the gifts of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Think of life without one or more of your senses, and imagine getting them back. Remember also, the human body is a marvellous construction, a gift in itself.

3. Gratitude in manners
We were all taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, for good reason. Greet, smile and thank those who help you or who are of service to you during the day – in person, on the phone or via email.

4. Ask what you can give back
Part of gratitude is responding to kindness by paying it forward or thanking someone in a direct manner for being a special person in your life. If you receive a gift, donate unused items to a needy cause, write a card and post it to a friend, or compile a list of attributes you value in a loved one and read it to them aloud.

5. Be mindful of what you say
Words are powerful. Use expressions like ‘I value that in you’, ‘Thank you for helping me,’ etc. Use words of abundance, good fortune and thanks.

6. Expand your world
Find new ways to explore life’s gifts, such as walking in nature, gardening, sitting down as a family to read stories to each other, and thanking your partner every day for what they do.

THANK YOU, WORLD! THANK YOU, WORLD! Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on October 19, 2017 Rating: 5
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