Gratitude, it seems so easy. ‘I’m thankful for… [fill in the blank].’ But you can take it a step further and make gratitude into a lifestyle.
In their Dutch book ‘De kracht van dankbaarheid’ (The power of gratitude), Ernst Bohlmeijer and Monique Hulsbergen distinguish eight aspects of gratitude. They all stem from the notion that anything you pay attention to, will grow.
1. Gratitude as a personal feature
Some people start the day feeling grateful and go to bed feeling the same way, without really making an effort for it. For others, it’s more complicated. Gratitude can be a personal feature, but it’s one you can train, by focusing on the good and pleasant things in life.
2. Being happy with what you’ve got
Clean water to drink, electricity, a roof over your head – the things we tend to take for granted, until we’ve made a trip to a different part of the world and had to do without it for a while. But you can also be happy with your friends and family.
3. Room for awe and wonder
A rainbow, a beautiful landscape, trees, the sea, the sky full of stars – all those times you look around you and say ‘wow’, are moments of gratitude.
4. Being content with your life right now
Try to be aware of the experiences you’re having now, in this time of your life. A meal, sunset, a movie. Or simply being satisfied with life in general.
5. Appreciating others
Having friends and family is something to be grateful for. But what about ‘random’ people who do something nice for you, like the bus driver waiting when you arrive at the station late at night.
6. Showing your gratitude
‘Feeling grateful without showing it, is like receiving a gift without unpacking it.’ By showing you’re grateful (telling a person, writing them a note), you make someone happy, and it increases your gratitude.
7. Gratitude coming from the notion of transience
Life is short and everything passes – realizing this, can give you an extra push to be grateful for everything that’s there in your life right now.
8. Positive comparisons
If you tend to look at people who have more than you do, you’ll be dissatisfied. Why not look the other way: at people who have less than you do? The comparison will give you peace of mind.
And what does gratitude bring?
Good question. Gratitude doesn’t pay the bills, nor does it cure a broken leg. But it helps you to live your life in a calm way, to enjoy it to the fullest and give relationships more meaning. It’s an ‘inner source that can help us and inspire us to blossom.’
By the way, a lot of scientific research is being done into the effects of gratitude. There are clear signs of gratitude being a medicine for worrying and anxiety, and it is even said to be good for your health. Gratitude is good for your heart, in all kinds of ways.
The best part? Gratitude doesn’t end. On the contrary, Bohlmeijer and Hulsbergen say: ‘By practicing gratitude, we’re drilling a well in a source that’s potentially endless in the world: love, simple happiness, the air, the seasons, playing, creativity, hospitality. And the miraculous thing is that anything we’re tapping into with gratitude, will multiply quickly.’
For me, the best and clearest comparison was this one: gratitude is like a magnifying glass for the beautiful and pleasant things in life. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean you’re denying the negative things, but it means you’re happy with the good things – and you’re aware of the things that seem natural, but aren’t.
Text: Anne Wesseling - Diane Simumpande