Great to be grateful

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken

Science confirms it: a little thanks goes a long way, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

It's a funny old time of year. The end of the year is often filled with mixed blessings.

For many of us there are holidays to look forward to, getting together with family and friends, maybe taking some time out to do your own thing, trees to decorate, gifts to organise, food to prepare.

However, Christmas is just around the corner and there are school events to attend, the usual household chores to sort, town goes nuts, parking is at a premium, the budget is getting stretched and if you hear Snoopy's Christmas one more time ...!

The joy and excitement can fast give way to a serious case of the "bah, humbugs'' and some very Grinch-like behaviour.

It's that busier side of life and the daily stresses we face that sometimes stops us from being able to appreciate and express gratitude for what we have. Gratitude is having appreciation for what we do have rather than what we want.

In our consumer-driven world we are constantly being told what we need and should have. If we don't have the latest X, Y or Z then there must be something wrong with us. We can't possibly be happy and we shouldn't be grateful unless we accumulate stuff.

Cicero, a Roman philosopher (106-46BC) said gratitude was the "mother of all virtues''.

That's quite a call. It tells us that gratitude has been an important part of human life for a very long time.

Gratitude can be observed across many cultures. It's suggested that it acts like a social glue, it helps people feel connected with others and reminds us we're part of something bigger than ourselves.

As more researchers turn their attention towards gratitude we are learning about the widespread and sometimes surprising benefits of having a more grateful outlook.

Believe it or not, findings suggest gratitude might play a role in how we clean, sleep, and save money!


 

1. A LITTLE GRATITUDE MIGHT MAKE YOUR PARTNER WANT TO DO THEIR CHORES

We all want to feel appreciated for the work we do, especially those tedious and mundane household chores.

One set of studies shows that feeling appreciated might actually transform those chores from something you have to do to something you want to do.

So show some appreciation!

No guarantees this approach will work on teenagers but it just might be worth a try!

2. A LITTLE GRATITUDE MIGHT HELP YOU SLEEP BETTER

If there is one cure-all for many of life's physical, social, and mental ailments, it's simply "get enough sleep''.

Except getting good quality sleep often isn't that simple.

Some research shows that people who are more grateful sleep better and longer and are less tired during the day.

Why?

Grateful people tend to think about more positive things, such as the enjoyable things they did that day, and less negative things, such as the bad things going on in the world, as they fall asleep; it seems they are more relaxed.

Following up on these findings, a recent study found that writing down things people were grateful for before they went to sleep was effective at boosting sleep quality.

Being grateful may not cure serious sleep issues, but a little gratitude before bed could help set the mood for a better night of sleep.

3. A LITTLE GRATITUDE MIGHT HELP YOU AVOID THE BOXING DAY SHOPPING FRENZY THIS YEAR

There's an abundance of research that shows that being materialistic, money-oriented and focused on material goods, has many negative physical and emotional consequences for us.

However, the desire to have all the latest mod cons is hard to combat in our consumerist society.

People who are more grateful tend to be less materialistic and in one study people who were induced to feel gratitude became more satisfied with life and less focused on material possessions.

Auckland University psychiatrist Dr Tony Fernando studies sleep issues, happiness and mindfulness. He discovered that being grateful "turbo charged'' people's happiness scores.

He maintains that practising gratitude is the easiest, most achievable exercise we can undertake. It helps give us some perspective on our lives and is an antidote to getting complacent about what we have and forgetting how good we have it. He suggests we try one of the following exercises.

1. GRATITUDE DIARY

Once a week, before bed, for six to eight weeks, write in a journal three to five things that you are grateful for.

Keep the journal, read it, add to it.

2. THREE GOOD THINGS EXERCISE

a) Write three good things that happened daily for a week.

b) Why did this happen?

What does it mean to you?

How can you have more of this good thing in the future?

You don't have to have a list of really grand things to be grateful about.

It might be you're grateful for a good cup of coffee, your electric blanket on a cold night, a friend you can laugh with, challenges that help you develop, having enough food.

It will be different for each one of us, it might be big, it might be small but it doesn't matter.

A little bit of gratitude can be good for our health.

On that note, I'd like to thank all the readers and all of you who have given me feedback on my columns throughout the year.

I hope that you all have a safe and enjoyable festive season.

• Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

For more go to: www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz.

Twitter:@jan-aitken

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