“It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy – Anon

  “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are”- Marianne

Feeling and attitude

Gratitude is both a feeling and an attitude. It is something which we all are capable of feeling, but sometimes when we are having what seems a particularly difficult period in our life, it can be hard to feel grateful. If you are feeling particularly ungrateful for what life has dealt you, the best place to start practising gratitude could be by appreciating a basic bodily process.

 Appreciating breathing

Most of us take it for granted that we breathe, that we have been breathing in and out every day of our lives. It is for the most part a lovely sensation, if we take our time to appreciate it. The flow of air rushing in filling our lungs and then being released, is actually quite satisfying. It is only when we can not breathe properly, (for instance an asthma attack, panic attack or choking), that we really appreciate being able to breathe normally and only then do we realise how we take breathing for granted.
If you can learn to be mindful of your breathing and really focus on the sensations you feel with each part of the flow of breath, then (even if you feel like you have not got much in life to be grateful for), in the moments that you are focusing on your breathing and freely breathing, enjoying the sensations, you will find that you do have at least one thing to be grateful for.

 Gratitude is relative

Gratitude is relative. If you are incredibly rich, you are likely to appreciate a gift of £100 less than somebody who is struggling to find the money for a loaf of bread. Being grateful is also something that we can learn to develop and starting small is a good way. By using mindfulness we can learn to appreciate, the small details in life.  They say when you know something well, that you know it “like the back of your hand”, well when was the last time you had a really good look at the back of your hand,or at the whole of your hand? Try mindfully looking at one of your hands for a while and thinking about all the things it does for you, how useful it is and how much more difficult life would be without it. You will probably find that you start to feel grateful for having your hand. After you have got in to the habit of being more mindful and through being mindful, more grateful, then you will find that you are opening ourself up to greater contentment. It seems that the more one can appreciate things in life, the more you have to be grateful for.

The Science

In a ten week study conducted at Harvard University, it was found that those who wrote about the things that they were grateful for (during this time) were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than the group which focused on sources of aggravation.

Harvard University study on gratitude

Gratitude brings happiness

Also, when you start to appreciate the people around you, even if you don’t vocalise this, they will notice a difference in you and you might find that life becomes a little bit easier, perhaps they will also start to appreciate you more. In mindfulness we try to be non-judgemental about our thoughts and as we learn to detach from feelings of blame and resentment which may arise, so we open the door a little to more gratitude and a kinder less judgemental attitude towards others. It is also helpful to meditate on something beautiful which brings us joy, such as dappled sunlight through the trees, or a calm peaceful lake, or perhaps a happy memory of a beach holiday. Really indulge yourself in recalling the details of the sights, sounds, smells and feel of being there, this involves visualisation meditation, which is different from mindful meditation.

Mindfulness and meditation are a fantastic tools for nurturing gratitude and through developing your appreciation of the good things in life, you will find that you are focusing less on the negative side and will therefore be happier.

 “Happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love grace and gratitude.” -Dennis Waitley

Controlled study on the effects of gratitude on the emotions