Playing the Grateful Game

I had the pleasure of being invited to my first Thanksgiving dinner in November last year. Being South African and Australian, this was not a custom that we had regularly practiced in the past, but I have been told that I am now on the list for the yearly Thanksgiving dinner and I am grateful for various reasons. While the feast and roast turkey dinner is a major tradition and was absolutely delicious (thank you to our hosts), the holiday is an opportunity to share our gratitude and promote the expression of appreciation and thankfulness, and this is exactly what we did.

During the dinner each person was requested to share what they had been grateful for the past year. This was the eye opener of the night and the part I treasured and still remember. There was rip roaring laughter and even some tears, as we stopped to listen attentively to each person and ponder about our lives and how lucky we are.

Gratitude is serious business and is an integral part of the positive psychology movement, which instead of focusing on emotional problems and illness looks at the affirmation of goodness in our lives as a means of making people happier and more optimistic. Research shows that gratitude can transform lives and improve your health.
The world’s leading expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons describes gratitude as a social and relationship strengthening emotion as it requires us to see how we are being supported and affirmed by others. He defines gratitude as having two parts: The first is affirming the good things in the world and the benefits we receive (note: it doesn’t mean life is perfect, but looks at life as a whole and encourages us to look for the good). The second is looking for the source of our gratitude, which involves acknowledging others and can have a spiritual component. His findings and research has shown that people who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits”.

So how can we integrate a mindset of gratitude into our daily lives and cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Start keeping gratitude journal and write down a few things you feel grateful for either daily or every few days. Keep it simple.
  2. Express your gratitude by sharing your feelings of appreciation with your friends and family. Let them know they are loved and appreciated. Acknowledge them from the heart.
  3. Look for what is right in a particular situation, not what is wrong. For example, you missed the bus but thankfully there are buses every few minutes and you have an understanding boss.
  4. Change your self-talk and your inner dialogue to positive thoughts.

I can’t help remembering the time I attended a boot camp exercise class in Coogee beach about seven years ago. The trainer was an army style commando and insisted that we ended off each session shouting “I’m alive, I’m well and I feel great!” We really were out of breath and could barely make it back to our cars to start the day, but these few words invigorated me and have stuck with me as a constant reminder to be grateful and thankful.

This month’s mantra is by Robert Braathe: ”Gratitude and attitude are not challenges, they are choices”. Stop, breathe, take a minute, pause and think: What are you grateful for today?

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