I’ve been pondering about writing an article on gratitude over the last few months. I launched Northern River Financial just over a year ago. We have been warmly embraced and have seen very strong and positive growth. With the approach of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I felt this was the right time. So, I’m sitting on my cottage dock in this impeccable October weather, iPad perched in my lap, and my beautiful dog, Terra, by my feet. Finally, after weeks of humidity, it’s warm with a cool breeze – the perfect weather to be working outside. As I gather my thoughts, I notice my state of being: content, calm, and peaceful. I am struck by the irony. Sitting here preparing to write about gratitude, I realize that is exactly what I am feeling today.
Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better. The Thanksgiving holiday began, as the name implies, when our ancestors gave thanks for their survival and for a good harvest. So perhaps October is a good time to review the mental health benefits of gratitude and to consider some advice about how to cultivate this state of mind.
My blessings are numerous. I have a career I am passionate about, which also allows me to work from home, our offices, or the cottage and the ability to create the schedule I want. I can go on and on, finding things to be grateful for right now, but I don’t always feel this way. As a matter of fact, I had planned to write this article the other day but I was feeling anything but grateful. Needless to say, I did not write about gratitude that day. I honestly don’t even know what I accomplished. I flopped into bed exhausted and frustrated – my mind wandered to the research I had done for this post.
Believe it or not, researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying the effect of gratitude on health and well-being for years. They describe gratitude as personality strength – the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen to you and never take them for granted. Grateful individuals express their thanks and appreciation to others in a heartfelt way, not just to be polite. If you possess a high level of gratitude, you often feel an emotional sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life itself.
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are happier, healthier, and more energetic. Grateful people report fewer health issues and spend more time exercising. The more a person is inclined towards gratitude, the less lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed he or she will be.
Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature (our mantra), or a higher power.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to:
- the past (retrieving positive memories, being thankful for childhood or past blessings),
- the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and
- the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude).
Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone’s gratitude, it’s a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further. Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
- Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
- Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down, or share with a loved one thoughts, about the gifts you’ve received each day.
- Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
- Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (e.g. peace), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (e.g. the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound).
Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.
Its something we would like to emulate at Northern River Financial and will be displayed in a series of giveback initiatives we have planned in future. Life is not about material things. Its about making the most of what we have and being thankful for it. Its at the core of Financial Life Planning and part of Keeping Life Current. To explore this concept further, please contact Northern River Financial at 1.855.5NRIVER or info@NorthernRiverFinancial.ca.