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What is Gratitude?

gratitude self-awareness social skills social-awareness Nov 01, 2020

What is gratitude?

With Thanksgiving around the corner, exploring the mental health benefits of gratitude seems apropos in November. So, what exactly is gratitude? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, gratitude is "the feeling or quality of being grateful." But, with all the hype that gratitude gets, is gratitude more than just saying "thank you" for a deed or gift received?

Interestingly, gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. With these roots, you can see how gratitude is more than a feeling of appreciation for gifts or friendly actions. With gratitude, there is a deep sense and connection not only to the goodness in our own lives but also to factors outside of ourselves. Gratitude is also a time traveler, enabling us to connect to our past (memories), our present (not taking things for granted), and our future (attitude). Gratitude is much more than just appreciation. 

Gratitude is dimensional

Dr. Robert Emmons, one of the world's leading scientific experts on gratitude, has found that there are two parts to gratitude. First, gratitude is an "affirmation of goodness." This is the obvious part of gratitude, which is acknowledging the good or showing appreciation for gifts or benefits that we have received. The gratifying part of this first dimension isn't only in the receipt of the gift/action, but also in the fact that the giver put effort into the gift. The second dimension of gratitude is "recognizing that sources of goodness are outside of ourselves," and that this mindset acknowledges that other people, nature, animals, or even higher powers, give us gifts of all sizes to achieve the goodness in our lives. The feeling of gratitude runs deep. When we feel valued (independent of monetary worth) and when we help others in return, there is a three-dimensional quality of warmth, goodness, and positivity that we feel and share with the world around us.

Positive psychology

Positive psychology is a subfield of psychology that was born out of a desire to shift the field's narrow bias from focusing on mental illness and suffering to the practice of flourishing and thriving. Not intended to replace psychology or to only see things from rose-colored glasses, positive psychologists aimed to use the scientific study of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to find practical applications for positive principles in order to foster well-being, and pave a path to find a balance for the field of psychology. 

Out of decades of research, positive psychologists have found the power of shifting one's perspective and how this little change can result in massive shifts in people's quality of life. Enter gratitude. Even though gratitude has been demonstrated throughout history and around the world, researchers have scientifically studied gratitude as a construct. This research has influenced various disciplines and infused psychological practices with "gratitude interventions" that increase happiness, well-being, and positive mood. 

Practicing gratitude

You don't have to see a psychologist or hire a life coach to practice gratitude. There are simple things that anyone can do. For example, you can start a gratitude journal and write down one thing you are grateful for every morning or night, you can go old school and write a letter of thanks to someone and send it in the mail, or you can surprise someone with a text that expresses your appreciation of them in your life. Shifting a perspective to a more optimistic or grateful one is a simple action with deep benefit and committing to daily practice builds momentum that can drive lasting well-being. 

Want more ideas? If you are a parent and would love more guidance or direction in how to promote gratitude in yourself and your children, check out our emotional fitness program, Odyssey. In addition to promoting gratitude, we also help parents foster resilience, self-confidence, and social skills with their children. Our unique program, which is based on positive and behavioral psychology principles, harnesses the power of the parent-child relationship in quick 5-minute activities that parents and kids can do anywhere. Parents who have tried our program have called it "wonderful, powerful, and fun." 








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