Oh…the enduring wisdom of A.A. Milne and our beloved Piglet. It’s not the size of the heart, it’s the capacity, right?
Reflecting on this sentiment each year at Thanksgiving, do you ever feel – if even just a little bit – like your gratitude capacity might be dwindling? If you’re like me, you wonder: “I have everything I need…shouldn’t I feel more thankful?” Go ahead, admit it. There are reasons you may not measure up to Piglet in the Gratitude Department. But that’s okay…you can still fill your Normal-Sized Heart with as much Gratitude as it can hold. Read on.
Remember and Be Present
Each and every day, we go about our business. Time clicks away as we move mindlessly through our lives.
Work, obligations, school. Sunrise, sunset. Eat, sleep, wake.
When the seasons change, I’m reminded again that time stops for no one. “Wait…Thanksgiving? It’s here again?! Oh, goodness…gotta thaw the turkey!” And another season – another year – of the same, unmindful cycle clicks over. Tick, tock. Whirrrrr. Lather, rinse, repeat.
How many times have you tried to remember details about a positive event, yet can’t remember a thing? So, if you can’t recall it, how can you be grateful? According to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., author, psychology professor and founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, the two strongest barriers to experiencing thankfulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness. Overcoming those two obstacles is no easy task, but it is possible.
Being Present is a Gift
Mindfulness is a powerful thing, and its connection to gratitude has been well studied. Recommended techniques involve engaging methods of breathing and sensation (slowly tasting your favorite food, pausing to focus on your physical state, and practicing thoughts of compassion for others) and allow the person to develop self-awareness. Once this awareness is practiced, all the senses become involved…and recall becomes easier. Research has also shown that developing a consciousness of feeling and experience can begin to transform your body, mind and social health in just a few short weeks.
Being Grateful is a Choice
Yes…we do have a choice to forge a path of remembrance and attentiveness on our way to gratitude. And we have much to gain, according to Emmons, who has studied its effects for over a decade. These scientific studies mark gratitude as the character trait most likely to drive mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Amazingly, these studies show that small exercises can manifest great benefits:
Increased energy, fewer aches and pains: Being optimistic and aware of our current state of health encourages us to preserve and perpetuate fitness.
Less depression and anxiousness: Focusing on the positive helps us put the negative into perspective.
Improved relationships and deeper social connection: Acknowledging that goodness can come from others, and from sources outside of our own doing, helps us appreciate the role that others play in our happiness.
Better self-esteem: Just as you have benefited from the good of others, you provide support and value to them as well. Seeing yourself from this perspective creates a new sense of worthiness and contribution to your relationship network.
Practice Makes, Well…Almost Perfect
The occasional sentiment of gratitude is a start – but cultivating gratitude can transform a person from feeling grateful to being grateful. But you ask: “That sounds great, but how do I do it?”
In his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier , Emmons offers many ways people can initiate the practice of gratitude, and admits that his own gratitude practice requires conscious work (despite his years of experience and study). So it may not be easy, but like any habit, it can be developed and cultured…and is certainly worth the effort.
Remind: Keep a journal. Establishing daily practice allows for deliberate reprogramming of thought and behavior. Vow to make an entry every day.
Think: Make a conscious effort to remember particular events and generous actions others have taken. Use visual cues, like pictures or reminder notes, whenever you can. Observe everyday events, and find the good in the mundane.
Share: Share your gratefulness with friends and family. Send thank you notes whenever possible – others will be moved by your gesture, too.
Reflect: Take a moment every day – like when cooking or showering – to recall an appreciation from the previous day. Reread entries in your journal. Reflect in the present as positive events occur.
Express: Social media is a fantastic channel to express and share gratitude. One gesture, one comment, can encourage others to do the same. Surround yourself with grateful people.
Piglet: My Hero!
Even the Smallest of Hearts can contain the Largest amounts of Gratitude. Not to say your Heart is small…it just may be a little empty at the present. It takes a level of consciousness, reflection – and yes, maybe Piglet-sized courage – to recognize that gratitude shouldn’t be just a passing sentiment scheduled for a certain time of year. It is a rewarding practice – one to be interwoven in everyday life and shared with the ones we love. And today, this Day-After-Thanksgiving…is just as good a day as any Normal-Sized Day…to begin!
Emmons, Robert. "Why Gratitude Is Good." Greater Good. University of California Berkeley, 16 Nov. 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Unstuck. "Unstuck — Why Gratitude Makes Life Better + 40 Ways to Get..." Unstuck. Unstuck, LLC, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Babauta, Leo. "Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy." Web log post. Zenhabits.net. Zen Habits RSS, 13 Sept. 2007. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.