Why gratitude is the best present you can give yourself

Learning to appreciate what we have helps us get on, and feel better - and not just at Christmas, says Jen Rolfe

by Jen Rolfe
Last Updated: 18 Jan 2016

"So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over…" John Lennon

How many of us will end this year discarding it like an unwanted Christmas gift? It’s easy to forget about what we’ve achieved or experienced or how we’ve progressed, and instead compare ourselves unfavourably to others who have done more or have more.

Positive psychology can help avoid such a depressing waste of our time and energy. As we’ve mentioned previously learning to be grateful - without going too over the top – is key. A little gratitude for what we have already can strongly counteract the sense of being on a treadmill just waiting for the next promotion, pay rise, or purchase (see here for a detailed analysis).

And, if getting off the treadmill isn’t motivation enough, there’s more to be gained. Studies show that cultivating gratitude offers multiple benefits; from increased self-esteem to better relationships to better sleep (a nicely covered summary from Forbes magazine is here). So, why not end the year like you mean to go on?

Grow your own grass

‘The Grass Is Always Greener’ is a famous saying for a reason. If we compare ourselves to others, or to the things we don’t yet have, we’ll never feel good because there’s always someone out there who is ‘better’ and our future potential is endless. Being grateful means a shift in comparison focus, which takes practice. The only person it’s worth comparing yourself against is your former self. So pause for just two minutes and ask yourself these 5 questions:

-    What am I most proud of this year that wasn’t there in previous years?
-    What did I do in 2015 that I couldn’t or didn’t do in 2014?
-    Where have I overcome the most challenge?
-    What’s been the most satisfying part of my year professionally?
-    What did I manage to do this year that I had wished for in the past?

Involve others

It can be easier (and more enjoyable) to try a shift to gratitude in the company of your team, or friends and family. I’ve often recommended a game of ‘highlights and lowlights’ where each person talks about one highlight and one lowlight of the year. Many of us feel uncomfortable focusing only on the positives, and what often happens is the lowlights are taken over by our natural British propensity to use humour, so stories of ‘disasters’ make everyone laugh. The chemicals released from laughter will help everyone to make a positive shift in focus.

Embrace responsibility

Where you have achieved something or made progress, remember that a lot of it was down to you and you alone. What strengths were you using? What aspects of your personality really made the difference? You can use this analysis to not only boost your self-confidence and self-worth, but to help you plan for next year too. Build on the energy gained and lessons learned ready for the next challenge. Well done you.

Make it a habit

Practice makes perfect. Whether you want to use online tools such as The Gratitude Jar, do it at work as a starting point for meetings, or make things more private with a notepad by your bed or a diary of good moments that you fill in while sitting in the loo. Find a way that doesn’t take too much time but that works for you. See here for some lessons from people who have done this.

Merry Christmas, and here’s hoping you won’t need this blog at the same time next year…

Jen Rolfe is Founder and Director of Learning consultancy Practically Positive.

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