- in Self-Care
"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent to all the other virtues." ~Cicero
Generosity and Gratitude
Current happiness research confirms there are certain universal traits linked to happiness, and generosity always appears near the top of the list.
Most people find great meaning in showing concern for others – it seems to be a universal desire to reduce the suffering of others and to improve their lives. In fact, one study in which people did a random act of kindness that involved something as small as a five-dollar bill found it was enough to make the giver happy. It also caused immune system to improve and depression levels to decrease in the giver.
You can plan to do acts of kindness for others.
Here is a list of ideas to get you started
- Create May Day baskets.
- Look for ways to give away $5 or $20.
- Pay the toll for the driver behind you.
- Secretly buy the pizza for the teens next to your table.
- Hold a door and smile at someone.
- Hug a friend.
- Smile at a stranger. It costs you nothing and usually makes an impact on them.
- Shovel a neighbor’s snowy driveway.
- Put your neighbor’s newspaper on their doorstep.
- Leave change in the soda machine.
- Take a meal to a family in need.
- Drop off disposable diapers or food to a community resource bank.
- Offer one of your sick days to someone who doesn’t have any left.
Interestingly, there seems to be a connection between gratitude and generosity.
People who experience generosity and feel grateful want to repay those who have given to them, as well as extend it to third parties—they want to pay it forward. The wordgratitude originates from the Latin word gratia, from which we get words like grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. It means, “thankfulness, appreciation, or kindness.”
With gratitude you acknowledge the good in your life. As you do this, you recognize that the source of this good lies at least partially outside yourself; therefore gratitude helps you connect to something larger than self, be it nature, others, or God.
Gratitude helps people feel positive emotions, improve their health, savor good experiences, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude and Happiness
Harvard research has found these virtues strongly and consistently linked to happiness: gratitude, hope, vitality, curiosity, and love. That kindness, or gift, need not be tangible. It could be a simple gesture or intent that is represented rather than the actual item or benefit given. Maybe you offer to drive a friend home from the car mechanic’s shop, but instead she chooses the time to sit there and read. The unused offer still carries meaning to both involved.
One study found three distinct parts involved in gratitude:
- A warm sense of appreciation for something or somebody
- A sense of goodwill toward that thing or person
- A resulting disposition to act positively
Gratitude is the key to happiness, and happiness seems to make good things happen.
The benefits of happiness may include higher income, superior work outcomes, larger social rewards like longer marriages and more friends, more activity, energy, better physical health, and longer life. Happy people are more creative, helpful, charitable, self-confident, have better self-control, show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities. Happiness can add as many as nine years to your life.
In one study led by Dr. Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough subjects were divided into three groups:
- The first group described five things they were thankful for
- The second group wrote about five daily hassles
- The third group wrote about things that had affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative
After ten weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were happier and more optimistic. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor than those who wrote about hassles.
Another study found that managers who remember to say “thank you” to their employees may actually motivate them to work harder.
Marriage researcher John Gottman’s twenty years of research shows that if a couple is unable to maintain a high level (5:1 or greater) ratio of positive encounters (smiles, compliments, laughter, appreciation) to negative encounters (frown, put-down, complaint), the marriage will end. In fact, he can observe a couple for three minutes and determine with 90 percent accuracy whose marriage will flourish and whose will fail.
- Can you recall the last time you told someone how much he or she meant to you, how precious your time with him or her was, or how much his or her support enabled you to endure a difficult circumstance?
- Have you ever tracked down an old acquaintance to thank them for making a difference in your life?
- If so, do you remember how sharing that message made you and the object of your gratitude feel?
Dr. Martin Seligman asked 411 people to write a letter of gratitude to someone alive or dead, someone who had not been properly thanked for his or her kindness.
The happiness benefits and decrease in depression scores, to the letter writer, were greater than any other exercise in Seligman’s happiness study, and the benefits lasted for six months!
Tips for Practicing Gratitude
- Write down goals. Dream.
- Make a practice out of telling the people around you what you appreciate about them.
- Write a thank-you note to someone. Tell the person how much they have influenced your life.
- Look in the mirror and think about something you like about yourself.
- Read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, and start a gratitude journal.
- Pray – count your blessings
- Watch “Jessica’s ‘Daily Affirmation’” on YouTube.
- Make a mental list of three to five things for which you are truly grateful.
Today I spent the day alone, at my computer and yet I giggled with pleasure at the intermittent exchanges I had with my friends on Facebook, and I noticed myself being happy about them.
- I’m so thankful for this quiet time to sip coffee and relax.
- I found a great parking space.
- The snow didn’t stick to the streets.
- I helped someone today.
- My mammogram was clear.
- I really enjoy the people I work with.
- My family loves me.
- I made it to the library before it closed.
- I enjoy my coworkers
- My husband brought me coffee while I worked at my computer.
Your gratitude list need not be complex or lengthy, and the items on the list only need to matter to you.
Make no mistake, life is difficult. But I have learned we can make it better by implementing self-care. I have healed some emotional wounds and have grieved and forgiven.
I know who I am. I have learned to set boundaries with toxic people and with my time. I’m no longer so desperate to be loved that I say yes to everyone. I have learned to be my own best friend, and I’m at ease being alone.
I have learned I am flawed, as is everyone. I understand that showing vulnerability draws people close and pretending to be perfect keeps them at bay.
Play and exercise give me zest for life. I understand how important it is to surround myself with beauty and with people who love me. I know that generosity and gratitude fill me up more than they cost.
This article is an excerpt from Lucille Zimmerman’s book: Renewed- Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World and has been published with the author’s permission.
About the author
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a private practice in Littleton, CO. She is an affiliate faculty member at Colorado Christian University and the author of Renewed- Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World.
In addition, before earning her master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, she was part of a team of counselors allowed into the secured Ground Zero following the events of 9/11. Under the umbrella of Billy Graham’s Prayer Center, she ministered to the uniformed officers in New York City. Lucille lives in Colorado with her husband and two adult children.
Visit www.LucilleZimmerman.com to know more about Lucille.