Last week, the French blogger Anouchka launched a gratitude initiative for December. Under the hashtag #mondefigratitude (my gratitude challenge), she offers readers to practice gratitude for the month of December, one day at a time. I think this is an excellent idea to end 2015 on a positive note, and here is why.
What is gratitude?We hear so much about gratitude and being grateful, but what is it really? There are two main aspects in the concept of gratitude: feeling thankful for something that is part of our life, and recognize the person or entity responsible for this positive thing in our life.
In other words, gratitude is about recognizing how lucky or blessed we are to be able to enjoy even the most mundane aspects of our lives, but also recognizing that it comes from the help and kindness of other people.
If you pass a test, you may feel proud of your own work. You may also feel grateful for your friend who gave you his notes, your partner who listened to your rehearsals, or even a spiritual figure you prayed to.
I think the social aspect of gratitude is a part of what makes it so positive for us and the people around us: not only do we become aware of all the positive things in our life, we also become aware of all the people who helped make this possible for you. Pushed to its best, gratitude makes us kinder to other people, as we recognize the value or cooperation and mutual help.
The benefits of gratitudeIn the science of happiness MOOC, there was a whole week dedicated to gratitude. Is it that important to happiness, even from a scientific perspective? Of course the answer is yes.
Simply put, gratitude is a way to make ourselves see the glass half-full instead of half-empty. Being grateful about the little things is a pathway to feeling grateful for our life as a whole, good and bad. This in turn provides health benefits such as the decrease of stress and tension.
But gratitude is also a way to actively counteract negative thoughts and feelings. How can you feel envious of others, while feeling grateful for what you have? Gratitude helps remove (or at least diminish) the tendency for comparison, envy or jalousy, the need for more, for revenge or to keep score.
Gratitude helps us feeling content with what we have, feel less need to own more, or to be better than someone else. Thus, we can focus on becoming better ourselves, rather than comparing ourselves to others. Ultimately, gratitude helps having healthier relationships, including with our significant other, family and friends, and helps being kinder and more helpful to other people as well.
But gratitude isn't about becoming the fool who lets him or herself be deceived by others. Nor is it about being naive about the world. I strongly believe that feeling more gratitude towards life is a way to be stronger inside, more in peace with ourselves and others. it is a way to be more resilient to negative episodes in our lives, as we take energy from the positive aspects of it, to be more content, and more sure of who we want to be and what we want.
How to cultivate gratitude?There are many ways to help us reshape our brains into feeling more grateful for our lives in general. One of them is to sit down and actively think about what you are grateful for today. This little gratitude exercise, practiced often enough, helps changing our vorld view and, over time, feeling more grateful about our life in general.
What Anouchka proposes is to turn December into an exercise of gratitude. Every day starting tomorrow, think about what you feel thankful for. Something little or big, mundane or life-changing. And think about who you feel grateful to, as well. Who helped you get this positive element of your life? Perhaps you could even tell them.
What I offer is an advent calendar of gratitude. Starting tomorrow, like you would open your advent calendar and eat a chocolate, sit down for five minutes and write down one little thing you feel grateful for today. Then, on December 25, get all 24 pieces of gratitude together and read them again.
What a great holiday present, don't you think? I'll post my own gratitude list on the blog after December 25, please, do let me know if you participate so I can read your list at the end of the month too!
PS: if you speak French, I have written about the Advent Calendar of Gratitude on the French blog.