- Warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful: I am grateful to you for your help.
- Expressing or actuated by gratitude: a grateful letter.
- Pleasing to the mind or senses; agreeable or welcome; refreshing: a grateful breeze.
When was the last time you were truly grateful for something? Like, really, truly grateful?
I used to use the phrase ‘I appreciate…’ a lot, without actually feeling that appreciation. In the definition above, the terms ‘warmly’ and ‘deeply’, for me, describe what gratitude is really about. It’s an intense feeling from within, something that makes you feel fuzzy and smile, something that makes you happy you’re alive.
What We Are Taught About Gratitude
Gratitude gets pretty bad publicity when we’re kids. All those ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’ become more of a burden than a joy: ‘you should feel grateful for X’; ‘you ought to appreciate Y’.
When we’re told what we should and shouldn’t be feeling grateful for, our own genuine feelings of thankfulness and pleasure can get lost.
So let’s get that gratitude back.
I’m not talking about the gratitude that, as children, we are told we should feel for things like having a nice house, being born (by chance) into a wealthy family, having food on the table.
It’s not that we shouldn’t feel grateful for those things, it’s that we should only feel grateful for them if we truly feel it. I’m glad I was born in the UK in modern times. I’m grateful that I had food, shelter and an education. I just don’t appreciate being told that I should feel a certain way without any curiosity about my actual thoughts.
If you try and force someone to think or feel in a certain way, you are going to kill that part of them that naturally occurs. When gratitude becomes a ‘should’ or ‘have to’, instead of a spontaneously occurring feeling, that spontaneity will be lost. This is one of the reasons why the world is so gratitude-deficient today.
When it comes to rebuilding my own sense of gratitude, I focus on the little things and work up.
I adore that first cup of coffee in the morning (yes, that probably makes me an addict but as far as addictions go, I’m ok with stopping at coffee).
Writing with a fountain pen
So much more satisfying than a biro – don’t ask why.
The people I know
The kindness and support they have given and let me give back in return.
I used to only think about my health when it went wrong. Now, whenever I think about it, I remember to enjoy it – it’s not going to be there forever.
My inner thoughts
I’m an introvert. There’s a lot going on in my head that I sometimes find difficult to express. This used to frustrate me and leave me feeling alienated from others. Now, I love the fact I have this private inner world that is deep, rich and purely me.
The fact I’m alive
A friend asked me recently ‘how often do you think about death?’ and I replied, ‘Most days.’ The way I think about death has changed. I don’t feel scared by it – it’s an inevitability (plus I get around London by bike, which is like participating in an extreme sport). However, there are definitely things I want to do, see and feel before my time is up. I don’t believe there is anything after death and if I did, I might not live my life as fully as I could now.
One you open up the gratitude, it’s everywhere. One super simple practice that got me on the gratitude wagon was the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. This is simply a list of everything you are grateful for. You can add to it daily, weekly, monthly or just when new things come up – whatever you want.
If you’re part of the Apple contingent, Happy Tapper and Live Happy both produce apps for the iPhone and iPod touch containing gratitude journals (I haven’t actually tried either of these myself but have heard good things).
You can start now: even if you’re in a hurry, sit back for a moment and try and imagine one thing you feel grateful for. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is – what matters is that it’s real gratitude and it’s yours.