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Gratitude can transform your life

By Joni Emmerling

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In this season of reflection and renewal, I hope you take some time to look back on what went right this past year and savor those moments before moving on to plans for the coming year.

When looking forward, what are your intentions for your future? Are there some new habits that you want to make a part of your life? While losing weight and exercising are always popular choices, here’s an idea that will make those other changes go more smoothly. Janice Kaplan’s “The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life” has some intriguing ideas for improving health and happiness.

Kaplan chronicles a yearlong journey to try to bring more gratitude into her life. She admits to being a bit of a pessimist by nature but wants to try to see if she can rewire her brain with some positive pathways. She weaves together philosophical thought, literature, positive psychology research, interviews and personal experience to explain and illustrate how vital gratitude is to happiness and well being. She takes what she learns and tries to apply it to different areas of her own life over a year.

She starts January by writing down what she is grateful for each day.  In an effort to be thorough, she decides to devote her gratitude practice to a specific area each month. She concentrates on her family through the winter, then adds money, career and her environment in the spring. Through the summer she works on gratitude around her health and in the fall looks at how gratitude affects how we cope and care for one another and the larger world.

In my own life and in my coaching practice, I know how vital being grateful is to our wellbeing. Kaplan’s book reminds me that this is not just a feeling to cultivate and keep between the pages of a journal. Gratitude is about action, also. Taking our gratitude and sharing it opens whole new worlds. People don’t know unless we tell them that we are grateful for all they do. When Kaplan concentrates on her husband she sees the struggle to keep it positive. Like all marriages, there is baggage and areas of resentment that might stop us from expressing pure gratitude without some criticism included. We all want our partner to appreciate us more and acknowledge all we do. Some of her friends pointed out that their husbands weren’t doing this, so why should they? She encouraged them to start expressing their gratitude anyway and see what happens.

Positive psychology research has found that when we express gratitude out loud, the largest benefit is to ourselves. We get a feel-good hormone boost and feel better about ourselves as well as steering our relationships in a more positive direction. Our stress levels go down on multiple fronts. When we share our positive feelings with our partners, children, friends and co-workers, everyone wins. If this feels awkward or even fake to you, I suggest you give it a try. You really have nothing to lose and much to gain. Imagine being able to spread this kind of positivity easily and naturally. Even if the person doesn’t respond by appreciating you back (which is really not the point anyway), they will move more positively through their own day.

Kaplan improves her marriage, her relationship with her children and friends, her work, and even how she sees her finances. She changes her internal dialogue with her own body by appreciating what it can do rather than letting the negative self criticism loop continue. She even changes her food choices and how she eats by bringing gratitude to the table to sit and savor delicious meals. By being appreciative of her body and her food, she improves her health, moving more and eating more consciously.  

The beauty of gratitude is that it changes how we think about the people and events in our lives. Kaplan says, “The tragic, sad, unexpected, and irritating do take place, and our lives are not necessarily better for them. But our only choice is how we respond. Instead of being masterful at misery, we can become experts at gratitude.” When we share that gratitude by appreciating others, we spread the positive and encourage looking for the good around us.

That’s a resolution worth keeping. And thanks for sharing this time with me!

— Joni Emmerling, MA, CMC,ACC is a certified life and wellness coach.  She can be reached at joni@jbecoaching.com.

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