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5 Practical Steps to Build an Attitude of Gratitude

I was re-reading Little Women recently, and one quote stood out, “When you feel discontented, think over your blessings, and be grateful.

Gratitude is something that’s very hard to practice, because of a few reasons based in psychology;

1-The law of habituation; where we get used to our circumstances so we tend not to notice something unless it changes so we end up not appreciating something until it’s gone.

2-Negativity bias; the trait in which negative experiences leave a longer-lasting impact than positive ones, so if a situation happens that has both a positive and negative side to it, we tend to focus more on the negative, and fail to appreciate the positive side.

Because psychology works against it, it requires a lot of effort to build a gratitude practice, and a few practical steps are;

1.Keep a gratitude journal. List three (new) things/people you’re grateful for everyday. From my experience, it’s better to separate this journal from the normal journal, because the list tends to get lost among everything else you’ve written. Listing the same things you’re grateful for is easy. The challenge comes when you need to come up with new things. After some time you’ll hone your noticing skills; you’ll appreciate scenes of beauty; you’ll look at situations from different angles to appreciate the bad that comes with the hidden good; you’ll notice moments of serendipity.

2. Don’t take your friends and family for granted. Talk to them. Call them. Continuously remind them how much they mean to you, and how grateful you are for their presence in your life. I’ve had an interesting story happen to me lately. For the longest time I’ve wanted to get in touch with one of my high school teachers to thank her for being such a great influence in my life. So a couple of weeks back, I was walking around with a friend and her cousin called.

“What school does your cousin go to?” I asked her. She gave me the name of the school and the only reason I’ve heard of it before was in the context of that particular teacher {I had heard she had moved there after my graduation (12 years ago)}. So I asked her, “Can you check if this teacher is still there?”

Within the hour, I had the teacher’s phone number. Reconnecting with her was one of the happiest moments of this month.

3. Appreciate people who do their jobs well. This week I’ve had to deal with a high level of un-professionalism and rudeness that really, really annoyed me. But I realized that while it’s really easy to complain about un-professionalism, toxicity and other negative things, do we take the time to appreciate the people who do their jobs properly? Do we thank the barista who prepares our coffee or do we just pick it up without glancing up from our phones?

4. Give back to the people around you and society in general. The best way to show gratitude is to give back to society. I don’t know if it’s a Mombasa thing but I’ve heard a lot of scenarios where people spoke negatively about giving, volunteering and the like. I remember meeting someone who said, “I don’t understand the point of volunteering. Why would anyone do something for free when they can get paid for it?”

Simply because it feels good to give some time and effort to advance a cause you believe in. But the poor guy was missing out on a lot, it seems.

5. Stop comparing your life with the lives of others. This comparison is the greatest course of discontentment in our lives. With Facebook and Instagram, tumbling into depression and despair because of all the things we don’t have has become easier than ever. As millenials, we don’t need a study to tell us that, though such studies do exist. As reported by Forbes.com, “A study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology finds that not only do Facebook and depressive symptoms go hand-in-hand, but the mediating factor seems to be a well-established psychological phenomenon: ‘Social comparison.'”

It reminds me of a story that happened once when I was in Mombasa. Someone was asked if they would give money for a good cause and their reaction was, “Someone should give us money. We’re the ones who are poor.”

And this was a family who owned their own home, had TV and air conditioning…in Mombasa standards, they were middle class, but just because they didn’t travel a lot or own one car per driver, they were poor according to their own definition.

I’ll end this with a quote that sheds the light on the concept of relative poverty; when people have all their needs and wants met, but they feel poor only because they don’t have what their neighbors and Facebook friends have. It’s a section I read once in President Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father;

“What’s happened here, Sayid? There never used to be such begging.”
“You are right,” he said. “I believe they have learned this thing from those in the city. People come back from Nairobi or Kisumu and tell them, ‘You are poor.’ So now we have this idea of poverty…”

Perhaps the idea of poverty had been imported to this place, a new standard of need and want that was carried like measles, by Auma, by Yusuf’s archaic radio. To say that poverty was just an idea wasn’t to say that it wasn’t real; the people we’d just met couldn’t ignore the fact that some people had indoor toilets or ate meat every day, any more than the children of Altgeld could ignore the fast cars and lavish homes that flashed across their television sets. 

So which steps are you planning to take to build an attitude of gratitude? Tweet me @ahechoes with the #gratitude

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Published inPersonal Development