“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
A few days ago, I was reading through my twitter feed. It seemed as if each of my friends was complaining. Complaints about their neighbors, their co-workers, or unknown callers, professors and teachers, spouses and children…it was a smorgasbord of complaints.
I wondered if these people are really this unhappy.
Or is it just convenient to take to social media to complain?
Gratitude – actively focusing on being thankful for what you have rather than a focus on what you lack.
~ Gayle Tabor This definition is my own – and I hope Webster (and everyone else) will forgive my latitude.
How much gratitude do you have?
The John Templeton Foundation commissioned a survey to determine how thankful Americans were. The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States, capturing perspectives from different ages, ethnic groups, income levels, religiosity, and more. Their results provide an unprecedented snapshot of gratefulness in America.
According to the Greater Good website at Berkeley.edu:
This poll suggests that people think their own gratitude is increasing, while everyone else’s is going down.
The good news? This is impossible, and likely due to a well-documented bias: we’re better at noticing and tallying what we personally do than what other people do. It may also be the case that Americans have simply gotten worse at expressing gratitude to each other. According to the data, most of the people surveyed are feeling more grateful today, and only lack in their tendency to say “thanks”—despite knowing that expressing gratitude can bring more happiness, meaning, professional success, and interpersonal connection into their lives.
Is this true? Are we just not good at expressing gratitude?
The past few years I participated in the annual Facebook and Twitter Tradition of posting Thirty Days of Thankful (AKA #30daysofthankful) for the month of November. Each year, as I pounded out my thirty day, I was haunted by the idea that it just wasn’wasn’t enough! AND by how hard it was by the last few days of the month to find the words (not to be thankful but to find the words to post). This year, I decided not to participate (but to write this post instead). Since it is now several days into December (and I’ve been working on this since the first of November) I think we can all agree these words aren’t coming easy either. <grin>
However, my inability to find words has little to do with the gratitude I feel.
Or does it? If I am not expressing gratitude, what am I expressing?
As I stated in the beginning it is easy on social media and in life to find someone who is complaining. However, are they really that unhappy or is it just easy (and a habit) to complain?
My guess is that the answer lies in all of the above. Gratitude is hard to express. We all have some reason to be unhappy. And, it’s so easy to complain than address real problems.
What should we do?
The answer is simple – be thankful! There are a myriad of reasons why (I’ve listed some here):
It’s good for your heart – A 1995 study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that appreciation and positive emotions are linked with changes in heart rate variability.
Sleep Better – spending time writing what you are thankful for before you fall asleep will help you get to sleep quicker and sleep more soundly, according to a study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
Boost your immune system - Gratefulness is linked with optimism, which in turn is linked with better immune health. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us better manage stress. “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,”.
Better grades - Grateful high-school students have higher GPAs – as well as better social integration and satisfaction with life according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The study reports that materialistic youth seem to be languishing while grateful youth seem to be ﬂourishing. I think this probably translates to better work reviews and satisfaction.
Be a better friend – Those who express gratitude have better social circles. Perhaps because gratitude makes us more willing to help others and therefore boost pro-social behaviors According to a 2003 study in the the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Have a better love life - a study by the University of North Carolina showed that ”Men and women with grateful partners felt more connected to the partner and more satisfied with the romantic relationship. The researchers found that the emotion of gratitude ultimately helps people find, remind, and bind themselves to others who seem to care about their welfare.”
Which leads us to a much harder question – HOW?
There is the obvious answer – actively focusing on being thankful for what you have rather than a focus on what you lack – which I gave you at the beginning. However, it can’t really be that simple can it?
YES! It is really that simple!
In almost all of the studies mentioned they imply or even flat out say that journaling your gratitude is a great way to help you focus. I keep a journal – it’s difficult to write everyday (even though I keep mine electronically and am able to speak my thoughts). I’m sad to say that although I share my inner most thoughts in my journal (and some of those ARE complaints) I rarely journal about being thankful. That’s about to change!
I am committing to write once each week about gratitude. I have no doubt they will be personal thoughts. I also have no doubt that there will be those worthy of sharing. Although, I will write mine in my journal but don’t think you need a fancy book or online blog – a scrap of paper will do!
The challenge to me, and now to you, is to write once a week about why you are grateful. Write to yourself, write to your blog, or write to your social media feeds.
Then share, no need to share everything but share something; each week share something you are thankful for and use the hashtag #52thx. That’s 52 weeks of thankful.
Search for others sharing – just search Facebook, twitter or google+ for #52thx – and write encouragement to someone.
Lastly, invite others to join in and experience a year of gratitude.
THE CHALLENGE MADE CLEAR -
Just so we are all clear on what we are doing, write something each week about something (doesn’t have to be just one thing) you are grateful for in your life. Share one thing via social media (with hashtag #52thx). Encourage others who are participating. And invite friends and family to join.
Lets make 2014 the year of thanksgiving!
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