Help! I wish to develop a sense of gratitude…

Question: Help, I have difficulties with other people since they think that I have high expectations and am unappreciative of what they do.

Answer: Appreciation of good things in life and how others might contribute to it, leads to thankfulness. On the other hand if we believe that people should naturally be doing certain things, have high expectations from others and take good things in life for granted then our appreciation goes down. With that goes down the quality of our relationships with other people as well as our own wellbeing.

When we focus more on what we don’t have, which other people might be having, we can become unhappy with life and with other people. The other reason why some of us are not able to appreciate life and see others in positive light is because we don’t trust the goodness of others, behind their ‘gifts’. We might end up trying to guess what ulterior motives might be present behind someone’s altruism, instead of appreciating it, being grateful about it and communicating it to the other person.

Question: Why is it so important to experience gratitude?

Answer: Not giving importance to what we already have in life, often makes us feel that we don’t have enough and leads to dissatisfaction. Further, not being thankful to others for their contribution makes us want more from them, and feel that what others already do is not sufficient. It can also lead to contempt and criticism for others leading to poor quality of relationships. On the other hand gratitude leads to higher levels of both personal and social wellbeing.

It is important to mention that gratitude is different from indebtedness. The sense of obligation and discomfort till we repay the debt of another person’s good action hinders in enjoying others’ ‘gifts’ and gratitude.

Question: Are there ways I can increase my sense of gratitude?

Answer: We can start with avoiding comparing ourselves to others and also avoid thinking we are superior to others in some way and therefore should be treated in special manner. Avoiding unrealistic expectations from others, which most people can’t meet in any case, would help you notice the helpful things they are already doing. Trusting others and attributing good intentions behind their action is helpful.

We can start appreciating what is going right and well in the society and in our lives, and how innumerable people contribute to it. Then we will see many things we take for granted, as ‘gifts’. For example, during your next meal think about all the distant and near people who might have contributed in growing the grains/vegetables, bringing it to the market, cooking it and getting it on your table. You may also expand your focus to the phenomena of nature like rains and soil, which may increase your wonder and gratitude about life itself.

When we notice small and simple things, we will have lot of things to be thankful about but when we wait for big things we miss out on experiencing gratitude. So make a decision to write small thank you notes in your journal. You can even get a piggy bank or make a box yourself which has an opening and write 3 things you are grateful for everyday and put into it. You can use each of your sense as a cue and answer, I’m grateful for what I see/ hear etc. You can also use a favorite thing you carry often (e.g. a key chain, a locket etc) and remember to thank at least one thing every time you see this favorite thing. You can be creative and develop many ways to remind yourself often to appreciate life and experience gratitude.

Chesterton’s quip from more than 100 years ago still seems to ring true today: ‘We do not merely love ourselves more than we love duty; we actually love ourselves more than we love joy’

Expert: Dr Jyotsna Agrawal

Dr Jyotsna is assistant professor of Positive Psychology at the Dept. of Clinical

Psychology, NIMHANS, Bangalore