Have you ever looked at yourself (in the mirror) blushing right after someone said, “Oh! Thank You for this. You are so kind”? I don’t know of anyone who would deny to not liking when someone would thank them for what they have done. Everybody likes being thanked.
I often wondered, how can gratitude be instrumental in changing people’s lives? What is it about gratitude that everybody keeps fixating on? Why is it considered one of the most powerful emotions there is? I had too many questions on my mind. So, I decided to start a small survey on the Expression of Gratitude and what makes it one of the most sought after emotions that will change the way you feel, change the way you look at life and most importantly, change the way you measure the severity of sorrows in your life, or lack thereof.
40 days ago – The Big Gratitude Research
I am someone who thanks people regularly. I am always grateful to people who have been kind to me and helped me in my hours of distress. I practice it so generously that at times I over-thank people and hear them say, ‘Stop saying thank you so much!! Chill’. Having practiced this all my life, it never changed my life per say. I used to wonder how is it that gratitude changes people’s lives and not mine? Because honestly, I did not see how my life was beautiful or completely changed for better by thanking people. I was still surrounded by people who gave me a lot of grief in life for no reason. That did not stop me from thanking them either, just that I wanted to know what was that one thing I wasn’t doing right about being grateful for receiving so much flak in life?
I started my research by asking my friends and random people at work about their views on gratitude. You know how some people are, when they hear words that contribute to good aspects of their personality like ‘kind-hearted’, ‘grateful’, ‘successful’, ‘caring’ etc. and when asked if they possess those qualities, they will be the first ones to concede and jump up to tell you how they practice it every day? I know of those people and they surround me every day. You might have gauged how my survey on gratitude turned out. No points for guessing, it was skewed. Skewed because it gave me an idea about how it made me feel when someone thanked me but it wasn’t instrumental in changing my life or my outlook towards life. Why was it such a powerful emotion wasn’t quite clear! I demanded more information. Hello, Google!
I started to google and read various articles and blogs on the expression of gratitude. I did not want to limit my information only to the spiritual material, rather, wanted to know, if all the folks at work, my friends and I were on the same page. I started by reading up a lot of articles written by research scholars who were studying gratitude at length since years and had conducted experiments in this area with normal people as participants. One of the starting aspects, (also the one that later turned out to be “the only aspect”) in all the material that I read up on, was, acknowledging this emotion. The most common way demonstrated was by jotting down in a notebook at least 5 things that happened to you on a particular day that you thought you were grateful for. This exercise is known as maintaining a gratitude journal or gratitude journaling. Many while describing their experiences on how their life changed by practicing gratitude swore by gratitude journal. They found it to be the most powerful process in changing the way they would live and love.
If so many people were suggesting gratitude journaling, it was time for me to experiment with it to find out if it worked. One of the best parts about over-stocking your cabinet with stationary (stationary freaks would understand!) is that during moments like these, your mind doesn’t give you any excuse to not start right away because you don’t have a good journal, or a red coloured pen you’d like to write with! Mind tricks, tell me about it!! But I was glad that wasn’t the case, I had a spare, blue coloured pocket-sized notebook and I decided this book will be my “Gratitude Journal”, for hopefully a month. I was all set to experiment.
25 days ago – The Gratitude Journal
The challenge was to write down at least 5 things that happened to me on a particular day that I was thankful for. These could be anything from being thankful that I reached work on time to being thankful that I got a great project to work on. The whole point was to acknowledge this emotion in real-time. I’ll be honest with you, at first, I couldn’t think of many things that I was grateful for until and unless they were related to acts I wasn’t involved in. Meaning, when I would encounter situations that got resolved by someone else’s support, over-thanker in me would obviously extend my gratitude towards them. I could only think of such moments to include in the journal. And these moments might or might not occur every day. But I kept at it. I had promised myself, that even though I must write the most random things like, “Thank you for this beautiful day”, I would, and make sure that I diligently perform this experiment. And so, I did. I am also on a weight-loss and fitness spree so I had at least one thing to write about and thank the universe for. There were still 4 more things that I had to come up with. When I couldn’t find anything to thank for, I would generally thank that I have food to eat, this life, friends, good parents who give me wings, great wi-fi speed, Netflix, time to write and think – you name it and I wrote it.
15 days ago – Situationally Grateful
At first, writing generic good things in my life felt quite unnatural. Why do I have to be thankful for things like sunrise and sunset? Or good parents and a house to live in? What suddenly struck me after continuing this for some days was, when I started to count my blessings in real-time, it made me aware of how blessed I was. It was when I was a week down with this experiment is when I realized that gratitude was a very event oriented practice, that, I was only situationally grateful. Yes! Big revelation. Being thankful to somebody when you experienced support from them and being a grateful person were not the same thing. I mean, they were the same thing but they were distanced from one another.
One of my very sweet friends flashing a big smile on his face said to me, “I thank my wife every time she bakes me cupcakes, my favourite dessert”. Another colleague pointed out that he would never forget to thank the liftman every time he took the lift. A few days into this experiment I realized what me and my friends were doing – we were being thankful for the acts of kindness towards us by others! But we weren’t as such aware of the fact that having privileges was also something to be grateful for, as this was already hard wired in our system as obvious luxury of life. Get the drift? Gratitude is not just about being a grateful thankful person when someone was kind to you. Gratitude is more a way of life than an event, really. Hah! Busted, so busted!
What makes Gratitude such a powerful emotion is the awareness and the connection it creates within you that makes you come alive. The awareness, that each moment, we have the freedom to make choices and shape our lives the way we wish to. The connection it creates with the resources we already have in our lives that we forget we had (in my case, the fast wi-fi). It is this habit of taking things for granted that I saw breaking with more days into journaling.
There were days when I did not journal. There were a couple of days I wanted to see what happens if I don’t journal. What happened? Nothing. The energy that was required to initiate the flow had already caught momentum, two days of not journaling wasn’t going to slow it down. That is not how the universe works, that is how we work! What happened was, after not having written for two days I wanted to go ahead and journal on the third day and was desperately waiting to pen down the series of magical moments that continued in my life each day.
7 days ago – Practicing Gratitude
After almost 33 days of my experiment with gratitude the biggest change that unraveled was that I started to take a closer look at all that was happening with me. Of course, writing does that to you since it is historically proven to be therapeutic and cathartic. Not only was I writing, I was jotting down my blessings each day. At least 5 things initially, doubled and quadrupled with each passing week. There were more things I started to be aware of that were good in my life. I still take things for granted, but it has reduced quite a bit. Now there are more blessings to pen down. Because my outlook towards gratitude is changing, automatically and magically my outlook towards everyday life is changing. I am actively observing, more like, taking a street level look at life every day and this is helping me break down my life into a list of things that are – working in my life and not working in my life.
One thing that stood out and I take away from this whole experiment personally is realizing that Gratitude is not an event based practice, it is a way of life. Practicing Gratitude is just like a successful weight-loss program. I compare it with weight-loss here because I have tried to lose weight many times, lost it but has always come back till I understood and practiced this golden rule of weight loss that is, “weight-loss is not an event oriented goal, it is more of a lifestyle modification mission”. This is the exact same with Gratefulness, I realize. It is not an act to be practiced to reciprocate someone’s act of kindness, it is an everyday emotion – a way of life. You do not lose weight because your best friend is getting married in 6 months in order to feel and look good, you lose weight despite that because you are ready to modify your lifestyle.
Some of the other things that I see a difference in while practicing gratitude each day and the areas of life that have been affected are –
Connection to the resources and gifts that are accessible to me are increasing. The lack that I felt at times, those moments when you feel whatever you have is just not enough to get through has changed to how can I use what I have better to create more of what I want. And because I am connecting more, I am starting to experience vastness and openness more. This is organically changing my daily interactions with people. I am more cheerful and happier because I now have “I really have things to be thankful for” days. My daily human connection at work, at home, with myself is all getting stronger because when I practice gratitude towards others, I show them that it is them who made a difference. This not just makes the other feel good and worthy of doing a good deed, it also helps me build relationships based on mutual trust.
At first when I started to write about the obvious things around me like the sunset, the sunrise, this life, I realized how I had killed – joy, wonder, awe, believing in magic, the immense happiness a balloon or a rainbow in sky brought to me. More I am appreciating the natural things around me, more I can bring back a sense of wonderment in my life. I am actively and consciously connecting with my inner child once again.
Sense of Control
One of the biggest relief I experienced after about 20 days into journaling was due to this realization or epiphany if you may, that not everything is in my hands. Gratitude does that to you. A feeling of so much happening in your life, it may be happening as a direct or indirect result of various external factors, even if you wished, you won’t be able to control them. I experience more freedom because it is only as much that I can control anyway. I am learning to TRY to give my best by letting things just flow. It is new to me but I will get there with more days into journaling.
Since it has opened me to a whole new way of looking at my own life, more of a magnified look, it has slowed me down. With career and with everything that I want my life to get better at. I had a sense of urgency. I wanted things to kind of just move. No one likes to wait, right? The reason expression of gratitude is such a powerful process is, it slows you down to review where you are headed to and how aligned and closer are you to what you want. Street level look at my goals and breaking down my life into various approaches that are working versus the approaches that need to be considered, enables me to review what I have done so far and how long I have come. Honestly, we end up giving much lesser credits to ourselves than we often should, is my conclusion.
The moment you realize that not everything happens because of you, it takes you away from that sense of entitlement you feel. Gratitude is like being humble. The funny side to humility is, the moment you think you have it, you’ve lost it. Gratitude is just the same. The more I practice it, more I realize there are so many people and factors each day that are responsible with what I experience that I can only be increasingly thankful. It grounds you in a way and helps you appreciate and value co-creation and collaboration.
The more days I will journal my way through, more I will uncover of this powerful emotion. This has been one of the most fascinating and mindset changing experiments for me and I am sure it will only get better. I am happy that I am actively transforming myself from a situational over-thanker to a regular grateful person. The latter does feel satisfactory!
So, next time, when you take the lift, don’t just thank the liftman, also write in your gratitude journal about how grateful you are for a perfectly functioning elevator because imagine climbing a flight of stairs when you work on the 23rd floor!! *rolls eyes and faints*
Fade to Black