Gratitude is supposed to make you happy and healthy. But can we force the feeling? And does something really change when we are more grateful in everyday life? Our author tried it.
Anyone who likes to deal with pop psychology and “How do I improve my life?” Guides (like me) has probably read or heard somewhere that gratitude is supposed to make you happy. Grateful people, this is how Wikipedia sums up the current state of research,
- are more satisfied with their life and relationships,
- suffer less from stress,
- have better control of their environment, personal growth, purpose and self-esteem,
- can deal with problems better,
- it is easier to ask others for help,
- suffer less from guilt,
- have a lower propensity for substance abuse
- and sleep better.
Who wouldn’t want to be a grateful person, if you please? Anyway, I wanted to be one! But to become one, I had to change something – because I can’t exactly say that I felt a fundamental, natural gratitude in me.
the initial situation
Of course, I thanked others when they did something for me. “Thanks for the salt”, “Thank you very much for your answer”, “1,000 thanks for this great birthday surprise!” – After all, I know what is proper and I really appreciate it when someone is nice to me. Also, I always felt grateful to my parents. That they were always there for me and stood behind me without expecting anything in return is simply unbelievable. But other than that, why should I feel grateful? Well, for example, to cope better with problems …
According to life coaches, therapists, psychological studies, and various other sources, we can actually learn to be more grateful by specifically exercising our brains. Research suggests that what is most effective in the long term is a so-called gratitude diary, which means nothing more than writing down three things that you are grateful for every day. Lucky me! Since I’ve been writing about two to three minutes of diary every evening for a few years now, I didn’t even have to change my routine, just ask myself one additional question:
- What am I grateful for today?
Every beginning is difficult
In the beginning, I can still remember it, it was difficult for me to just write down the things that came spontaneously to my mind. I’ve questioned a lot and had thoughts like: “Seriously? Isn’t that a bit banal?” or “Oh God, what do you care about? It’s depressing!”. In addition, I couldn’t easily commit to three points – for example, on my first entry I listed six (including a voicemail from my sister that the cashier in the supermarket was nice to me and my delicious breakfast – just so it makes clear what I mean by banal).
But in spite of my difficulties at the start and even though I felt very strange in the early stages, seeing the banalities of my everyday life and being grateful for it, there was something else from the start: a good feeling, a little mood lift, which reliably occurred with every single entry. Thinking about the nice cashier again that evening made me smile for a moment – at least inwardly, despite my initial judgments and reservations about my own perception. So it wasn’t particularly difficult for me to continue with this daily thank you ritual.
From the initial overcoming to the routine
Over the weeks it became easier and easier for me to decide on three things in the evening for which I am grateful. Instead of letting go of my whole day in my mind, as I did at the beginning, I went more and more to just writing down what came to my mind at that moment. My reservations and doubts about whether something was worth making my list decreased week after week. Besides – or maybe because of that ?! – the quality of what I was grateful for changed, sometimes very much: In addition to concrete experiences and things, general and abstract phenomena appeared more and more often, e. B. “that I am healthy” or “that I am free”. Just like concrete memories, they also triggered this pleasant feeling in me, this inner smile. Suddenly, apparently, nothing more had to happen to make me grateful – it was enough that everything was as it is.
What has changed?
I have now been keeping my gratitude diary of everyday banalities and abstracts for more than a year and consider it the best experiment I have ever started. It takes almost no time, or at least is not an additional stress factor in everyday life, but it definitely changed me in a positive way.
In fact, I can tick most of the points listed at the beginning: I am more satisfied today than two years ago, deal better with problems, suffer less from stress and feelings of guilt, and feel less dependent and at the mercy of myself. However, I dare to doubt whether all of this can be traced back to my gratitude training – after all, a lot more has happened in my life.
I’ve gotten older, gained experience, overcome crises both large and small, and overcome some of my greatest fears. Of course, this has made me freer, more self-confident and more confident in dealing with problems and conflicts. My routine of gratitude certainly didn’t get in the way of this development, but it’s difficult for me to assess whether it has promoted it – because for that I would have to turn back the time and spend one more time without gratitude.
What I primarily attribute to my gratitude training, however, is a changed basic attitude towards life, a generally more positive outlook on life. I’ve never been a rotten grumble, but today I see something good in almost everyone and everything. When I imagine my brain like a jumble of possible paths, the one with the sign “think positively” seems to me to be the one with the most traffic in mine and the one that I always hit first.
In addition, gratitude has gone from being a situational emotion to being a basic one for me. Bringing everything I have in front of me every evening – from my dear friend Kimi, who keeps appearing in my diary because I experience so many beautiful moments with her, to my spiritual freedom – makes me aware of how lucky I can count myself. Life is not always good, but it is a gift for which I am wholeheartedly grateful.
I don’t know whether I have to continue my gratitude diary in order to keep this feeling. But I will definitely do it – because I like to go to bed with a smile.