Six ways to cultivate gratitude
Cicero said that "gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."
The English preacher John Henry Jowett wrote that "every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road."
And, according to Aesop's Fables, "gratitude is the sign of noble souls."
It has only been with much work and lots of practice that I have been able to cultivate gratitude and be genuinely thankful.
Here are six techniques that I use to help me cultivate this parent of all virtues.
1. Change your language.
Dan Baker writes in What Happy People Know: "Just as changing your life can change your language, changing your language can change your life. It can alter your perceptions and thought processes."
I do a lot of self-bashing, and when I'm in the middle of a rant, I'm not able to be thankful.
According to Baker, recent research concludes that it is impossible to be simultaneously in a state of appreciation and fear, which is why gratitude and appreciation are antidotes to fear.
Moreover, the words that I speak to myself and to others really do alter my perception of the world. But when I can recognize the toxic self-talk and change my choice of words, the seeds of gratitude can grow.
2. Get a gratitude partner.
Shifting perspectives, seeing that the cup you thought had one teensy drop in it is actually two-thirds full, and communicating with new language takes time, discipline -- and practice, just like working out.
So it makes sense that a gratitude buddy might help you stay in line, just like your running partner does, or ... well ... is supposed to.
"Gratitude is the heart's memory," says a French proverb. Therefore, one of the first steps to thankfulness is to remember -- remember those in your life who have walked with you and shown kindness.
I have been extremely fortunate to have so many positive mentors in my own life. For every scary crossroad (when I was tempted to take a destructive path and walk further away from the person whom I believe I was meant to become) I've met a guardian, a messenger to lead me out of the perilous forest.
4. Keep a gratitude journal.
Gratitude can do more than make you smile. Research conducted by psychologist Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis has found that gratitude also can improve your health: raise energy levels, promote alertness and determination, improve sleep, and possibly relieve pain and fatigue.
Emmons, author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, maintains that writing in a gratitude journal a few times a week can create lasting effects.
5. Write a thank-you letter.
Emmons, who also is known as "the father of gratitude studies," also suggests the exercise of composing a "gratitude letter" to a person who has made a positive and lasting influence in your life. The letter is especially powerful, he says, when you have not properly thanked that person in the past, and when you read the letter aloud to the person face to face.
6. Give back.
Giving back doesn't mean reciprocating favors so that everything is fair and the tally is even. That's the beauty of giving. If someone does an act of kindness for you, one way to say thanks is to do the same for another.
Borchard is a columnist for Catholic News Service.