Mak­ing grat­i­tude an ev­ery­day habit can change your life

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - SYD­NEY LONEY

The many ways in which an at­ti­tude of grat­i­tude can change your life.

WHEN AMY PAUL­SON was grow­ing up in Ari­zona, peo­ple would of­ten stop her on the street with her mum and dad to re­mark on how lucky she was that her fam­ily had adopted her. (Paul­son was aban­doned at a po­lice sta­tion in Seoul when she was a day old and spent her first three months in an or­phan­age.) “I al­ways thought, Why should I be more thank­ful to my par­ents than the next per­son?” she says.

In 2011, how­ever, Paul­son re­con­nected with her birth mother in South Korea, her adop­tive mum by her side. “My Korean mother took my Amer­i­can mother’s hands in hers and said, ‘Thank you.’ Af­ter that, my whole world changed,” Paul­son says. At the time, she was work­ing in the e-com­merce sec­tor and strug­gling with anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and an eat­ing dis­or­der. Re­con­nect­ing with her birth fam­ily, how­ever, made her feel like the luck­i­est

per­son in the world – and she wanted to ac­tively share her good for­tune. That year, she quit her job and co-founded the Global Grat­i­tude Al­liance, which part­ners with grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tions to cre­ate com­mu­nity-led solutions for so­cial and eco­nomic change.

Since then, a re­flex­ive sense of thank­ful­ness has be­come Paul­son’s frame of ref­er­ence for work, re­la­tion­ships and daily life in gen­eral. That all- en­com­pass­ing ap­proach can make you hap­pier and health­ier, says Louisa Jewell, founder and pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion, a non-profit ded­i­cated to well­be­ing. Some call it ‘spon­ta­neous’ grat­i­tude, others de­scribe it as ‘ca­sual’; ei­ther way, it’s more than an oc­ca­sional feel­ing of ap­pre­ci­a­tion when some­thing goes right. This at­ti­tude, says Jewell, “can be­come a lens through which you see the world, which is dif­fer­ent than just say­ing thank you to some­one.”


“When some­thing bad hap­pens,” says Jewell, “I try to be ap­pre­cia­tive that things aren’t worse.” This at­ti­tude came in handy seven years ago, when her daugh­ter, then eight, was be­ing bul­lied at school. On the way to meet with teach­ers, Jewell men­tally ran through all the things she was grate­ful for – that the school cared, that her child was re­silient, that she was able to help her daugh­ter get through the or­deal. “I felt calm and re­laxed go­ing into the meet­ing, rather than be­ing an up­set, stressed-out crazy mum.”

It takes prac­tise to con­nect with those feel­ings un­der duress, Jewell ad­mits. In her work, she in­tro­duces peo­ple to the idea of spon­ta­neous grat­i­tude by get­ting them to jot down three things they’re look­ing for­ward to each morn­ing or three things they’re thank­ful for each night. It may sound corny, but in fact, there’s a sci­en­tific ba­sis to that ap­proach. In March 2016, re­searchers at In­di­ana Univer­sity found that peo­ple still felt grate­ful a few weeks af­ter writ­ing thank you let­ters to peo­ple in their lives; months later, they showed more grat­i­tude-­re­lated brain ac­tiv­ity. Rep­e­ti­tion is key, Jewell says. “Prac­tis­ing cre­ates new neur­al path­ways un­til it be­comes eas­ier, al­most ha­bit­ual.”


For Jewell, a trip to a part of Nepal where no­body had easy ac­cess to wa­ter – clean or oth­er­wise – gave her a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for hot show­ers in the morn­ing. That prin­ci­ple can be ap­plied else­where. Hu­man be­ings are al­ways look­ing for nov­elty, she says, and when we get some­thing we re­ally want – a car, a house, a de­li­cious new gelato flavour – we en­joy it, but only un­til our plea­sure spikes and our ap­pre­ci­a­tion for that new thing wanes. (A fa­mous 1978 study con­ducted by re­searchers from North­west­ern Univer­sity in Illi­nois and the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts found that even af­ter win­ning the ­lot­tery, sub­jects even­tu­ally re­turned to their base­line of hap­pi­ness.)

But ac­cord­ing to a 2007 re­port from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, chan­nelling grat­i­tude can com­bat that sense of de­fla­tion. Paus­ing to take stock pro­longs your hap­pi­ness, Jewell says, even af­ter the ini­tial thrill wears off. Paul­son re­lied on an app to re­mind her to find some­thing to give thanks for ev­ery day. “That helped change my out­look,” she says. “Watch­ing the sun cre­ate an in­ter­est­ing shadow, for in­stance – there’s joy in that, even if it’s only for a sec­ond.”

Paus­ing to take stock pro­longs your hap­pi­ness, even af­ter the ini­tial thrill wears off

Giv­ing back can bol­ster those feel­ings. “Vol­un­teer­ing to help some­one less for­tu­nate changes your per­spec­tive,” says Jewell, who’s ex­pe­ri­enced that first-hand through her own work at a women’s shel­ter. “It shifts your fo­cus onto other peo­ple and away from your own prob­lems, and it can keep you in a space of grat­i­tude.” Paul­son likes to make ­dona­tions on be­half of some­one who’s had a pos­i­tive im­pact on her life. “I find it mean­ing­ful to put their name on a lit­tle tag, but I don’t al­ways tell the per­son I’ve done it.”


Be­ing thank­ful can also strengthen your re­la­tion­ships with the peo­ple al­ready in your life. Jan­ice Ka­plan, au­thor of The Grat­i­tude Diaries, be­gan by ob­serv­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing a small thing about her hus­band: she thanked him for do­ing all the ­driv­ing af­ter a par­tic­u­larly ar­du­ous road trip. That sim­ple act, she says, helped ­con­nect them. “I think of it as sim­ply ap­pre­ci­at­ing peo­ple. It’s some­thing we don’t do enough of, and it makes all the dif­fer­ence.”

For Paul­son, the at­ti­tude shift helped her over­come health is­sues: af­ter ten years on an­tide­pres­sants, she weaned her­self off the drugs (in con­sul­ta­tion with her doc­tors) sev­eral months af­ter she re­turned from Korea. “It’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to sink into the abyss of de­pres­sion while be­ing present and grate­ful for my con­nec­tion with others and the world around me.”

Those pos­i­tive ef­fects in­spired Paul­son to share the ex­pe­ri­ence with others. Through a part­ner­ship with a home for or­phaned chil­dren in Nepal, the Global Grat­i­tude Al­liance pro­vided teach­ers with trauma- heal­ing work­shops that con­cluded with a rit­ual of giv­ing thanks. The par­tic­i­pants used those tech­niques to help their stu­dents and com­mu­nity af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake of 2015. Chil­dren from the school re­cently vis­ited a lo­cal se­niors’ home to build re­la­tion­ships with the res­i­dents there. “Grat­i­tude cre­ates a cy­cle of giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing,” Paul­son says.

“It’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to sink into the abyss of de­pres­sion while be­ing grate­ful for my con­nec­tion with others” It’s called be­ing con­de­scend­ing. Maybe you’ve heard of it. @ DANMENTOS ( DAN MENTOS)


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