Gratitude: The Secret Ingredient
There are good days and bad days; we all know that. There are moments or stages in which we cannot find a clear path, we have too many doubts, or we are emotionally inactive or letdown. In the face of all that, we may be looking for solutions that will provide happiness or personal balance.
In order to achieve this, the key is to bring together a collection of elements from our inner world and from our surroundings. It is not an easy path. For happiness, you have to work hard.
One way to start or keep moving down the path toward happiness is through a practice that we sometimes forget about: gratitude.
When did we stop being thankful for things? How often have we stopped giving thanks out of fear, worrying about what they may say or simply not knowing how?
Let us be aware of the power of words. It is important to know how to give them the proper moment, tone, emphasis, place, and sincerity. We do not always choose them well, and we do not always hit the mark, even if we have the best of intentions.
“So great is the pleasure felt upon meeting a thankful man, that it is worth the risk not to be ungrateful.”
Have we ever thought about thanking someone in a special way? Why didn’t we do it? Is it the same thing to give thanks as to be thankful?
“Thank you.” Eight well blended letters that can fall on either end of the emotional spectrum. On the one side, automatic formalism, and on the other, the most meaningful of all feelings.
We hand out “thank you’s” left and right. They are almost a gift that we give each day to strangers. We are educated in formal thankfulness as a social norm. “Thank you for coming,” “thank you for participating,” “thank you for dinner,” “thank you for the invitation,” etc. All of this is more or less formal and more or less felt.
We generally give thanks to communicate socially. It opens doors for us, it brings us closer to others, and it eases our integration into the group. However, there is another type of “thank you.” The kind that we practice less. The kind that passes between parents, friends, family members, or special acquaintances in our lives.
Here we can talk about thankfulness.
What being thankful hides
And the fact of the matter is that we are not talking about formalities and automatic responses. We are not talking about saying “thank you” to people who are seeking recognition for their work.
We are talking about glancing around us or at the past and identifying that person who helped us without needing any sort of compensation. Often without knowing it or without meaning to, but they did it.
That athletic coach who made us see beyond the balls, hurdles, or tryouts. That teacher who helped us discover our love of books, history, or mathematics. That relative who gave us the best summers of our life, in the most natural way, but who we will remember with great affection.
“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”
Being thankful is connecting with a personal emotion and sharing it with another.
Being thankful helps us to:
- Free reserved emotions and provide inner peace
- Get rid of the idea of resolving pending matters (“I would have liked to thank him…”)
- Raise self-esteem
- Strengthen social ties
- Combat the bad times and negative emotions
Secret ingredient? Yes! Scientific? That, too!
Martin Seligman is one of the most recognized psychologists today. He was the prime driver of positive psychology, the branch of psychology that entails the scientific study of emotions and the positive qualities of human beings.
Along with Christopher Peterson, he developed a survey that gathers and classifies those strengths and virtues that can help us achieve better quality of life.
They not only based their observations on up-to-date studies; they also studied ancient philosophies, texts from all cultures and religions on every continent.
They were able to draw several common elements from all of this. One of the general categories, called “Transcendence” – strengths that give meaning to life and connect us with our surroundings and universal emotions – includes gratitude.
Transcendence was defined as “being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen to one, as well as knowing how to give thanks.”
Activate your gratitude
There are all kinds things that stop us from expressing gratitude. Fear of “what will they say,” the sense that it is already too late, a point of arrogance or pride that makes us doubt at certain times, the thought that feelings will not be returned, or shyness.
But the effect of gratitude is so positive that if we have something in mind, we must not doubt ourselves and try it. Beforehand, it helps to identify those things that we can really feel thankful for.
Every day or once a week, take a few minutes to identify the things that you can feel grateful for. This will also help you to value and reflect on those actions, situations, or people who bring calm and positivity to your daily life.
And above all else, write a letter to someone from your past whom you would like to thank for something. It is not necessary to recognize them for something that was heroic in the eyes of others. You can be thankful for routines, attention, gestures, events, realizations…
Think about someone and take your time; organize what you would like to express and write. The choice is yours for how you get it to them. Giving it to them by hand or reading it to them on person. Recommendation? The best experience is reading it out loud and talking about it.
Beyond “thank you,” there is experience and emotion. Discover the best way for you to give, receive and enjoy the thanks. It is one of the surest ways to find gratification and once again recover our sense of identity.
Sharing something like this silently contributes to a connection with your positive emotions and adds one more stone to the path that we are building, moment by moment, towards our happiness.
“Gratitude is the only secret that cannot reveal itself.”