“Happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley
Thankfulness may consist merely of words, but gratitude is shown in acts. Gratitude is about redirecting your attention. You must have heard over and over again that your energy goes where your attention goes, which simply means your attention is the driver and your energy is the follower. This should help you become mindful of where your attention is at. This is the reason why it is said that if you think you can or if you think you can’t, either way, you are right. In my talks, coaching sessions and training programmes, I always emphasize this because it’s very important. You must always be careful of what you imagine yourself becoming because it guides your attention to that and then energy follows.
The science of gratitude which has been revealed in numerous studies is showing that just three weeks of gratitude training has been shown to improve personal well-being and overall psychological health. In my neuroleadership training, when I talk around peak performance, I spend some time explaining the relationship between happiness and performance. You see, when you are happy, the reward system in the brain gets triggered to release a squirt of dopamine – a happy/feel-good neurochemical. Because of a strong connection between the emotional brain and thinking brain, this neurochemical causes the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the thinking brain to perform better and faster. Which explains why the levels of creativity and effectiveness are high when one is happy. Gratitude leads to an increase in optimism, better sleep and more time spent helping others.
Although research has repeatedly pointed to a so-called Happiness Set Point – a baseline for happiness that makes some people just naturally happier than others, regardless of the external circumstances. Gratitude research highlights the potential for raising that home base of happiness by as much as 25 percent. Dr David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk who has a PhD in experimental psychology explained, “It’s not happiness that allows us to be grateful, but it’s gratefulness that allows us to be happy.”
Gratitude leads to an increase in optimism and optimism can be defined as a stable personality trait related to positive expectations regarding future events. Optimists are people who expect that good things will happen to them, while pessimists expect bad things to happen. Thus, the definition of optimism is supported by positive expectations about future outcomes. It presumes that when a goal is important, the person will act to reach the desired goal, hoping for positive results. You can read more on this optimism from the scholarly articles for Scheier & Carver, 1985).
Now, let’s look at how you can put this gratitude theory into practice. One very simple thing you can do once a day is to write down three to five things you are grateful for. You may want to set aside time of day to do this. Here’s something you need to keep in mind about gratitude: Gratitude is not about comparing yourself to others nor it is about enumeration of your personal accomplishments, even though these are almost certainly worth celebrating. Gratitude is directed instead at a source outside yourself. It typically places an emphasis on people or things in your world that have made your life better, more fortunate, or more meaningful. This can include everything from the sight of a beautiful sunset to the taste of a delicious meal, a smile from a stranger, or the aid of a colleague, or friend.
Few examples of things you may be grateful for just to give you a head start:
- A family member;
- The weather;
- A talent you have;
- A challenge you’ve overcome;
- Someone who inspires you;
- Something you use every day;
- A mentor/teacher;
- Lessons learned this year;
- The city you live in; and the list goes on and on.
Saying thank you and showing your gratitude with a handwritten message can make all the difference in your relationships. When you develop this attitude, your attention centre in the brain called RAS (Reticular Activating System) gets triggered helping you become more alert especially around that which you are focusing on. This is part of the brain that gets activated when you buy a new car that you thought was very rare and once your attention is on it, you start to see the many other similar cars and wonder why. Well, the other cars were always there, you were just not focusing on them because they were not that important to you. The same goes with gratitude, when you focus on it, the RAS gets activated and you get to notice more things to be grateful for which in good time raises your happiness and optimism levels.
You must have heard that the best things in life are free, meaning that often, the things that have the most value or quality are free like experiencing the love of a baby which is life-changing. Gratitude is free and is a master key to your dreams, it’s starts with a genuine ‘Thank you!’
Veli Ndaba is a Neuro-Conscious Leadership Speaker and Trainer, Life & Business Coach, Motivational Speaker and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, www.velindaba.com or +27 83 304 9773