Of all the emotionally positive states available to human beings, the feeling of gratitude is one of the greatest.
When we feel grateful, any difficulties in our lives are swept away and all we’re left with is the utmost appreciation for everything that we have. What lacks clarity, however, is its scientific classification.
For example, some scholars consider gratitude an emotion whilst others consider it a coping response. Yet in spite of this, researchers can certainly agree that gratitude is paramount to our well-being. But why?
Why Is Gratitude Important?
When we experience true gratitude we find appreciation in the abundance of our lives. We learn to acknowledge the blessings we’ve received, whether tangible or intangible.
When this happens, we understand that the source of these blessings is at least partially beyond our control; that the goodness in our lives is due to something or someone external to ourselves.
Because of this, the experience of gratitude allows us to find solace in something or someone beyond our existence. And it is this attribution of meaning that Professor Martin Seligman states is critical to our well-being.
In his latest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Seligman details his most updated model regarding well-being known as PERMA.
PERMA is an acronym for five measurable elements:
- Positive emotion
- Meaning and purpose
Recently, other researchers have advocated for an addition to the above model to include ‘Health’; as a balanced diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep are all necessary components to well-being.
Here is Seligman providing a detailed talk on PERMA:
So, what does this have to do with gratitude?
The ‘M’ in PERMA stands for meaning and purpose and by cultivating a sense of gratitude, we begin attributing some of the goodness in our lives to an entity outside ourselves, whether that’s another human being or even something greater such as a spiritual or religious being. Whatever you consider that external influence to be, it gives our lives a greater sense of meaning.
That’s why gratitude is so important to our wellbeing; it allows us to transcend our immediate world to connect with something far more significant.
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up” – Eckhart Tolle
How Do We Develop Gratitude?
How can we learn to strengthen our grateful mindset to ensure we appreciate all we’ve been given?
It seems fairly simple, right?
We live in amazing times, where technological advancements have granted us access to almost anything within reason.The problem, however, is that this digital age has formed what is now known as the ‘instant gratification’ culture.
The term ‘instant gratification’ refers to our desire to experience pleasure and fulfillment without delay. In this digital age, we are fortunate enough to have our needs met quicker and more efficiently than any other time period in global history.
Almost anything and everything is available at the touch of a button or swipe of a screen.
Want to transfer some money between bank accounts? Whip out your phone.
Want to chat your relatives halfway across the world? Whip out your phone.
Want to buy enough clothes to make an entirely new wardrobe? Well, you get the idea.
“Instant gratification is not soon enough” – Meryl Streep
Everything is available in the palm of our hand and because of that, a certain standard has been set and anytime something falls outside of that standard, all hell breaks loose.
Your friend hasn’t replied to a text message you sent 17 seconds ago? Something must be wrong.
Your flight’s been delayed for half an hour? How could they do this to you?
The internet’s been out for a few minutes? God forbid.
With all these incredible developments comes the tendency to take things for granted. And unfortunately, that means our sense of gratitude suffers.
So, how can we remedy this?
Well, a reminder from a loved one doesn’t exactly help:
“When I was your age, we didn’t have these gadgets. All we had was a radio and yet we never complained. You should be grateful”.
That sort of gratitude is underpinned by guilt and therefore lacks purity. Instead, we must learn to cultivate gratitude from within. Not because somebody else has reminded us, but because we’ve taken proactive measures to do so.
We can do this by using a simple yet powerful tool, that when used consistently, allows us to strengthen and stretch our sense of gratitude for all the abundance we experience every day. I call it ‘The Tiny-Win Technique’.
The Tiny-Win Technique
What is the Tiny-Win Technique?
This technique is all about acknowledging the many instances throughout our day when something goes in our favour. In essence, it’s all about celebrating the ‘tiny-wins’.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude” – Brene Brown
What could be classified as a ‘tiny-win’, you may ask? It could be something as simple as making a traffic light before it turns red. Or opening the fridge to find just enough milk to make your cereal.
At a surface glance, the Tiny-Win Technique might seem trivial.
But think about it: Every time you have to slow down for a red light, you’re overcome with frustration. Or imagine pouring your cereal, opening the fridge and finding no milk.
It is these little instances, when gone sour, that are exacerbated by today’s culture of instant gratification.
A particularly good example is paying for a meal with our credit card because of course, most of us are familiar with this process. We approach the cashier and he or she requests that we swipe, insert or wave our credit card. And after doing so, we often wait for the ‘approved’ sign to appear on the terminal.
When that happens, we tend to overlook that outcome as though it’s not particularly surprising or gratifying. But by using the Tiny-Win Technique, we can pause and consider the sheer number of possible outcomes.
And upon reflection, we realize that these simple victories or ‘tiny wins’ are rather incredible.
Imagine if your credit card defaulted, or had no option of moving money between accounts. Imagine having no transportation available to arrive at the restaurant in the first place. Here is my podcast on my experience with the Tiny Win Technique.
The Tiny-Win Technique ensures that we acknowledge our ability to pay for a delicious meal, one that most likely provided us with enough sustenance for the remainder of the day. Again, if we stop to consider the fact that some of us don’t even need to worry about where our next meal is coming from, that’s a pretty amazing!
What remains key, however, is how often we use the Tiny-Win Technique. Appreciating a functional credit card is a good step towards building a more grateful mindset. But is it enough on its own to cultivate ever-lasting gratitude?
By taking the time each and every day to consistently identify and acknowledge other ‘tiny wins’ we are positioning ourselves for success. And the best part about the Tiny-Win Technique is even that you feel great every time you celebrate it is that the Tiny-Win Technique is scientifically founded.
Robert Emmons conducts academic research on gratitude, stating that those who practice daily gratitude report a host of benefits including the following:
- Physical benefits such as stronger immune function, lower blood pressure and longer sleep.
- Psychological benefits such as greater positive emotion, optimism and focus.
- Social benefits such as greater generosity, compassion and willingness to forgive.
Here is Robert Emmons presenting his research on the science and spirit of gratitude:
A Take Home Message
Gratitude is critical to our well-being. It improves all aspects of our lives and it is the meaning behind our appreciation that Seligman has dubbed an indispensable component of the PERMA model.
However, today’s culture of instant gratification has brought with it a lack of appreciation for the quality of life available to us. Despite being blessed with an abundance of opportunities, we often fail to recognise them.
Therefore, we must start celebrating these daily successes and use Tiny-Win Technique to overcome the 30-second-wait that is frustrating and stealing from our sense of time, abundance and gratitude.
By making conscious and consistent efforts to appreciate the many blessings available to us, we will continue to build a more grateful society and thus reap the benefits of optimal well-being.
About the Author
Yezen Nwiran is a positive psychology researcher, writer and aspiring practitioner. Having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Psychological Science, Yezen now conducts academic research in the field, currently exploring the cultivation of resilience. He is also the founder and host of The Yez To Life Podcast, a podcast dedicated to improving the lives of others through applications of positive psychology. Find out more at www.yeztolife.com.