I’ve wanted to write a post on the gratitude attitude for a while now. Gratitude isn’t some obscure ‘up-in-the-air’ notion—in many communities around the world it is still taken extremely seriously, sometimes as part of a religious practice.
I’m an atheist, but like many atheists I absolutely see the need to appreciate what I have every day. It keeps you grounded, sane, and generally improves your character and makes you a nicer person to be around. If you can appreciate the little things while striving towards your own big goals, you’ve got it made.
Developing the Gratitude Attitude
So often we forget to appreciate what we have, what we have achieved, and what we are working towards. The importance of the gratitude attitude and gratitude more generally was recently brought to my attention as something you can strive towards doing more of as an actionable being, rather than a simple concept, in the book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute by Professor Richard Wiseman.
In the book, Professor Wiseman of Hertfordshire University in the United Kingdom expelled tips for life that can be implemented in 59 seconds or less. In the first chapter, ‘Happiness,’ Professor Wiseman talks about developing the gratitude attitude. He describes how, when a new smell enters a room, at first you notice it, but quickly you get used to it and eventually it disappears from your consciousness. However, as we all know, it’s easy to reactivate the smell again by stepping out of the room and back in again.
This, in a nutshell, is the concept of the gratitude attitude. Professor Wiseman’s gratitude attitude five-day plan goes as follows:
There are many things in your life for which to be grateful. These might include having close friends, being in a loving relationship, being part of a supportive family, enjoying good health, having a roof over your head, or enough food to eat. Alternatively, you might have a job that you love, have happy memories of the past, recently had a nice experience (such as an especially delicious cup of coffee), enjoyed the smile of a stranger, had your dog welcome you home, eaten a great meal, or stopped to smell the flowers. Think back over the past week and list three of these things.
Tuesday: Terrific Times
Think about one of the most wonderful experiences in your life. Perhaps a moment when you felt suddenly content, were in love, listened to an amazing piece of music, saw an incredible performance, or had a great time with friends. Choose just one experience and imagine yourself back in that moment in time. Imagine how you felt and what was going on around you. Now spend a few moments writing down a description of that experience and how you felt. Do not worry about your spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Instead, simply commit your thoughts to paper.
Wednesday: Future Fantastic
Spend a few moments writing about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. Be realistic, but imagine that you have worked hard and achieved all your goals. Imagine you have become the person you really want to be, and your personal and professional life feels like a dream come true. All of this may not help you achieve your goals, but will help you feel good and put a smile on your face.
Think about someone in your life who is very important to you. It might be your partner, or a close family friend or family member. Imagine you only have one opportunity to tell this person how important they are to you. Now, write a short letter to this person, describing how much you care for them and the impact they have had on your life.
Friday: Reviewing the Situation
Think back over the past seven days and make a note of three things that went really well for you. The events might be fairly trivial, such as finding a parking space, or more important, such as being offered a new job or opportunity.
Each of these points are explained in more detail in the ‘Happiness’ chapter of Professor Wiseman’s book, along with scientific backing as to why each method works, and just as importantly, why many conventional methods don’t work and often cause more harm.
If you can only do one of the above exercises, I suggest you take on thanksgiving. I’ve been doing this for some time now, and I can honestly say that I’ve felt the gratitude attitude grow within me. It’s been a powerful experience.
Complain less, and appreciate the small things. Develop the gratitude attitude. ∎