Increased joy, reduced loneliness, lower blood pressure, improved sleep, stronger immune systems, less pain, improved outlook, better overall health—these are just some of the documented benefits of practicing gratitude, according to Robert Emmons, leading expert on the subject.
So, that’s great, but what do we do to ensure that we are approaching it correctly? For the ”how-to” we turned to Jacqueline Lewis, founder of The World Gratitude Map, an online crowdmapping platform that documents instances of gratitude around the world. The site is active in 86 countries and has tens of thousands of participants. But let’s begin at the beginning. Lewis explains, “The genesis of the project was this cool new technology called ‘crowdmapping.’ Initially, it was used by police forces to allocate resources effectively; if they spotted a trend in a certain type of crime, they would divert officers to that location. It was also used strategically in Kenya during elections when there was a lot of corruption and intimidation around polling places. We saw the potential to emphasize something positive with the technology, leveraging it for the good, so we focused on gratitude and it just took off.”
The process of practicing gratitude is quite simple, according to Lewis, “Start by identifying—either mentally or on a written list–three things each day that are good. This can be something as simple as ‘the sun is shining’, or ‘I found a great parking spot’, or as profound as ‘the hospice nurse is caring for my mother with compassion.’ As you note these things you begin to carry them with you through the day. The process enables you to create space in your mind to look for the good. Because there is always good, but sometimes we are not open to embracing it.”
When you begin to catalog these items, you will shift your mindset, and this positive outlook will become habit. Lewis continues: “What gets measured gets done—so as you measure your gratitude, you will unavoidably become more grateful. Similarly, we tend to find what we are looking for; if you are determined to focus on the good in your significant other, your children, your colleagues, your neighbors, you will highlight that. If you prefer to focus on the socks they leave on the floor, or the work they don’t complete, or the lawn they don’t mow, then that is all you will see. Gratitude is a choice, and it really is the only choice.”
The World Gratitude Map has two types of users, and both benefit greatly. The first are those who are participating to report instances of gratitude; they are happy to share their experience and revel in the joy of others. The second visit because they are glum; they do not feel gratitude and visit the site to see what in the world people have to be so grateful for. As they read the posts, some of which are simple and happy, and others which reflect sadness and resilience and faith and the human spirit, they, too, gain perspective and, consequently, a more positive attitude. Posts include:
- “I’m grateful that my oncology visits are reduced to every 90 days”
- “Thank you to the two wonderful men who came to my aid” (accompanied by a photo of a woman a full leg cast).
- “An inspirational memorial service for a friend.”
- “Grateful that my landlord is patient.”
- “Thankful for my dog.”
- “Food, family, friends.”
Lewis sums up with a quote from Cicero: “Gratitude is the parent of all other virtues.” She advises that it can exist in our minds and hearts independently of other emotions, and that it creates positivity in our psyches, which spreads to others.
So let’s get to work. What are you grateful for?