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Gratitude

“Cultivate the Grat1habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is Gratitude?

The Oxford online dictionary provides this definition: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.  

At Fair Shake, we believe that gratitude is a vital component to mental health, engagement in community, and to feeling important and valued in society.  Our philosophy – ubuntu – causes us to reflect on being grateful for every person in our life who has helped us become the person we are today, and knowing that we can evolve to become the person we want to be through even more learning from and through others. 

Many thanks to those who have gone before us to lead the way to greater understanding about ourselves to better create the life we wish to pursue!  Many thanks for our ever-expanding minds that never stop learning, increasing our knowledge (about ourselves and about others) which, in turn, increases our capabilities! 

We don’t stop with gratitude, we begin.

Reflections on Gratitude

by Terrell Hall (Fair Shake’s Outreach Manager)

Throughout my life I primarily expressed gratitude when things were going my way. It was easy to remember blessings and to be thankful for them when all was well. I would express my gratitude by offering monetary or material gifts. In hindsight, I was expressing pleasure instead of gratitude. I learned this lesson after the money and other material possessions were taken away and the people who were conditioned by the gifts were gone as well. That is when I began to explore gratitude. Not intentionally, because I had accepted the general concept of gratitude; but through the way that gratitude expressed itself to me.

As I sat in a cold dark place with nothing, I started to tap into my innate gifts and make the best of them. My focus was on my loved ones, life and health and I found myself as thankful as I’d ever been in my life. Thankful for strength of mind. Thankful for my relationships over the years – even the ones that impacted me negatively – because they all played a part in me becoming who I am.  I also realized that those relationships were not just about me; they were about the other person as well. I found myself thankful that I have something to offer the world, just as we all do. These things can’t be taken away, and I will continuously be grateful for them.

I’ve learned that gratitude isn’t an action; it’s a lifestyle where you express your thankfulness for what life has given you.  Gratitude includes being as thankful for the storm as for the sunshine. The storm provides an opportunity for growth that allows you to give back and help others through your experience, effecting change on a level greater than yourself.

Gratitude benefits us in many ways. I’ve heard people say that they have nothing to be thankful for. I’ve been that person at times and it was mostly because I didn’t understand the concept of gratitude. My thinking was that gratitude was to be shown for good deeds and things that made you feel good. What I have learned, after reflecting on my journey, is that I had so much more to be thankful for. I didn’t view circumstances the same as I did while I was going through them. My mind was clouded by emotions and my intent was selfish. 

I could even hear myself complaining about how ungrateful others were. I was even more ungrateful in many ways. The law of attraction in a nut shell, you get what you give. My own ungratefulness attracted those l complained about. I communicated through ineffective energy and got exactly that in return. Even when I said, thank you, it wasn’t pure. 

My understanding of gratitude today has a lot to do with the most difficult times in my life. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to see what I had to be grateful for. Those tough experiences taught me more about myself than I think I would have come about in any other fashion and have it truly resonate. The pain and turmoil inside forced me to do something and I didn’t always make the best decision at deciding what that was. This made me even more ungrateful. I had been through things that others had survived, so I am grateful to be alive. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned because there are others who made the same mistakes and never grew from them. I don’t have to compare my life and gratitude to anyone else, I have a right to own my health and joy, and for that I am forever grateful. There is always something to be grateful regardless to what the moment holds.  I am a better person largely due to some of my more difficult times in life. 

This page is a great place to continue your journey of understanding gratitude and it’s effects.

Benefits of Gratitude

What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life. ~ Oprah Winfrey 

Robert Emmons shares the effects of gratitude on physical health, on psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others.

Why Gratitude Is Good

By  Robert Emmons

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. He is also the author of the books Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity and Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

We found this article on gratitude by Robert Emmons website: Greater Good in Action: Science-based Practices for a Meaningful Life:

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good/

Excerpt from the website: “For more than a decade, I’ve been studying the effects of gratitude on physical health, on psychological well-being, and on our relationships with others.

In a series of studies, my colleagues and I have helped people systematically cultivate gratitude, usually by keeping a “gratitude journal” in which they regularly record the things for which they’re grateful.

Gratitude journals and other gratitude practices often seem so simple and basic; in our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Physical
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

Social
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.

Indeed, this cuts to the very heart of my definition of gratitude, which has two components. First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. 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 some amount of goodness in our life.

The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

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Robert Emmons: The Power of Gratitude
YouTube Link

More on the Benefits of Gratitude

More on gratitude by Robert Emmons from the Greater Good in Action: Science-based Practices for a Meaningful Life website:

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/

“So what’s really behind our research results—why might gratitude have these transformative effects on people’s lives?

I think there are several important reasons, but I want to highlight four in particular.

1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions.

Research on emotion shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness. They like novelty. They like change. We adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long, the new car, the new spouse, the new house—they don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.

But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.

In effect, I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness. We spend so much time watching things—movies, computer screens, sports—but with gratitude we become greater participants in our lives as opposed to spectators.

2. Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness. There’s even recent evidence, including a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression.

This makes sense: You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re incompatible feelings. If you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t. Those are very different ways of relating to the world, and sure enough, research I’ve done with colleagues Michael McCullough and Jo-Ann Tsang has suggested that people who have high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.

3. Grateful people are more stress resistant. There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. I believe gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events and help them guard against post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety.

4. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.

Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made to your life—once you realize that other people have seen the value in you—you can transform the way you see yourself.”

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Robert Emmons: What Good is Gratitude
YouTube Link

Challenges to gratitude

Gratitude and the Self-Serving Bias

(Biases, of which there are many, are irrational thinking that we are all vulnerable to practicing)

More from Robert Emmons Greater Good in Action: Science-based Practices for a Meaningful Life website: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/

Just because gratitude is good doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Practicing gratitude can be at odds with some deeply ingrained psychological tendencies.

One is the “self-serving bias.” That means that when good things happen to us, we say it’s because of something we did, but when bad things happen, we blame other people or circumstances.

Gratitude really goes against the self-serving bias because when we’re grateful, we give credit to other people for our success. We accomplished some of it ourselves, yes, but we widen our range of attribution to also say, “Well, my parents gave me this opportunity.” Or, “I had teachers. I had mentors. I had siblings, peers—other people assisted me along the way.” That’s very different from a self-serving bias.

Gratitude also goes against our need to feel in control of our environment. Sometimes with gratitude you just have to accept life as it is and be grateful for what you have.

Finally, gratitude contradicts the “just-world” hypothesis, which says that we get what we deserve in life. Good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people. But it doesn’t always work out that way, does it? Bad things happen to good people and vice versa.

With gratitude comes the realization that we get more than we deserve. I’ll never forget the comment by a man at a talk I gave on gratitude. “It’s a good thing we don’t get what we deserve,” he said. “I’m grateful because I get far more than I deserve.”

This goes against a message we get a lot in our contemporary culture: that we deserve the good fortune that comes our way, that we’re entitled to it. If you deserve everything, if you’re entitled to everything, it makes it a lot harder to be grateful for anything.

Cultivating gratitude

Even more on gratitude by Robert Emmons from the Greater Good in Action: Science-based Practices for a Meaningful Life’s website:

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/

Partly because these challenges to gratitude can be so difficult to overcome, I get asked a lot about how we can go beyond just occasionally feeling more grateful to actually becoming a more grateful person.

I detail many steps for cultivating gratitude in my book Thanks!, and summarize many of them in this Greater Good article. I should add, though, that despite the fact that I’ve been studying gratitude for 11 years and know all about it, I still find that I have to put a lot of conscious effort into practicing gratitude. In fact, my wife says, “How is it that you’re supposed to be this huge expert on gratitude? You’re the least grateful person I know!” Well, she has a point because it’s easy to lapse into the negativity mindset. But these are some of the specific steps I like to recommend for overcoming the challenges to gratitude.

First is to keep a gratitude journal, as I’ve had people do in my experiments. This can mean listing just five things for which you’re grateful every week. This practice works, I think, because it consciously, intentionally focuses our attention on developing more grateful thinking and on eliminating ungrateful thoughts. It helps guard against taking things for granted; instead, we see gifts in life as new and exciting. I do believe that people who live a life of pervasive thankfulness really do experience life differently than people who cheat themselves out of life by not feeling grateful.

Similarly, another gratitude exercise is to practice counting your blessings on a regular basis, maybe first thing in the morning, maybe in the evening. What are you grateful for today? You don’t have to write them down on paper.

You can also use concrete reminders to practice gratitude, which can be particularly effective in working with children, who aren’t abstract thinkers like adults are. For instance, I read about a woman in Vancouver whose family developed this practice of putting money in “gratitude jars.” At the end of the day, they emptied their pockets and put spare change in those jars. They had a regular reminder, a routine, to get them to focus on gratitude. Then, when the jar became full, they gave the money in it to a needy person or a good cause within their community.

Practices like this can not only teach children the importance of gratitude but can show that gratitude impels people to “pay it forward”—to give to others in some measure like they themselves have received.

Finally, I think it’s important to think outside of the box when it comes to gratitude. Mother Theresa talked about how grateful she was to the people she was helping, the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta, because they enabled her to grow and deepen her spirituality. That’s a very different way of thinking about gratitude—gratitude for what we can give as opposed to what we receive. But that can be a very powerful way, I think, of cultivating a sense of gratitude.

 

6 Ways To Cultivate Gratitude

We share with you an insightful article by Therese J. Borchard, which we found here:  http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/12/28/6-ways-to-cultivate-gratitude/

1. Keep a gratitude journal.

According to psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California-Riverside, keeping a gratitude journal —where you record once a week all the things you have to be grateful for — and other gratitude exercises can increase your energy, and relieve pain and fatigue. In my daily mood journal, I make a list of each day’s “little joys,” moments that I would fail to appreciate if I didn’t make myself record them, such as: “holding my daughter’s hand on the way to the car,” “a hot shower,” “helping my son with his homework.” This exercise reminds me of all the blessings in my life I take for granted and encourages me to appreciate those mundane moments that can be sources of joy.

2. Use the right words.

According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, words literally can change your brain. In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write: “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words, such as “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. According to the authors, they propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and build resiliency.

3. Remember.

“Gratitude is the heart’s memory,” says the French proverb. Therefore, one of the first steps to thankfulness is to remember those in our lives who have walked with us and shown kindness for deeds big and small. I have been extremely fortunate to have so many positive mentors in my life. At every scary crossroad, there was a guardian or messenger there to help me find my way. The mere exercise of remembering such people can cultivate gratitude in your life.

4. Write thank-you letters.

Robert Emmons says that a powerful exercise to cultivate gratitude is to compose a “gratitude letter” to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life.

Emmons says the letter is especially powerful when you have not properly thanked the person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face to face. I do this as part of my holiday cards, especially to former professors or teachers who helped shape my future and inspired me in ways they might not know.

 5. Hang with the winners.

Peer pressure never really goes away, you know. Studies show that married folks hanging out with happy couples are more likely to stay married themselves; that if your friends eat well, their willpower will rub off on you; and that if you surround yourself with optimists, you will end up more positive than if you keep company with a bunch of whiners. By merely sitting next to a person who likes the words “thank you,” there is a high probability that you will start using those words as well.

6. Give back.

A while back I wanted to repay a former professor of mine for all his encouragement and support to me throughout the years. However, nothing I could do would match his kindness. No letter of appreciation. No visit to his classrooms. So I decided I would help some young girl who fell into my path in the same way that he helped me. I would try to help and inspire this lost person just as he had done for me.

Giving back doesn’t mean reciprocating favors so that everything is fair and the tally is even. That’s the beauty of giving. If someone does an act of kindness for you, one way to say thanks is to do the same for another.

How to Practice Gratitude

From Sonya Lyumbomirsky’s book,”The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want”

Paths to gratitude. The particular means by which you go about counting your blessings will depend on your individual personality, goals, and needs.  Instead of writing, some of you may choose a fixed time simply to contemplate each of your objects of gratitude and perhaps also to reflect on why you are grateful and how your life has been enriched.  Others may choose to identify just one thing each day that they usually take for granted and that ordinarily goes unappreciated.  Alternatively, some may want to acknowledge one ungrateful thought per day (e.g., “my sister forgot my birthday”) and substitute a grateful one (e.g., “she’s always been there for me”). 

Friends and family can also help foster your appreciation.  One idea is to procure a gratitude partner with whom you can share your blessings list and who prompts and encourages you if you lose motivation or simply forget. 

Another idea is to introduce a visitor to the things, people, and places that you love.  Show off your comic book collection, your favorite park, or your favorite niece.  Doing this will help you see the ordinary details of your life through another person’s eyes, affording you a fresh perspective and making you appreciate them as though you were experiencing them for the very first time.