"There is an underlying paradox about gratitude: whereas the evidence is clear that cultivating gratitude, in both our lives and in our attitude toward life, makes us sustainably happier and healthier people, it is still difficult to practice gratitude on a daily basis. Some days it comes naturally; other days, it feels as if we're taking our medicine, doing something that's good for us but that we don't really like. On difficult days, it can be like stepping onto the treadmill when you just want to sink into the couch and turn on the television. I should know. I love my work conducting research into gratitude, thinking and writing about it, reading the insights of others on the topic, and speaking to audiences about it. But I find the sustained practice of gratitude difficult. It does not always come easily or naturally to me, and I effortfully have to redirect ingrained tendencies to take life for granted.
"That may be the only thing I have in common with Einstein. He had to remind himself, a thousand times a day by his count, of how much he depended upon other people. A thousand times a day, I too have to remind myself to be grateful and to remember how much I depend upon other people. I justify myself by saying that since I am constantly thinking about gratitude, I don't need to actively practice it. But more often than not, my thinking isn't about the things in life I am grateful for, it's just about the next study, or next article, or next talk I am going to deliver. I suspect that Einstein and I are not alone. Gratitude can be hard and painful work. It requires discipline. That is why we need a chapter on how to cultivate it.
"The evidence that cultivating gratefulness is good for you is overwhelming. Gratitude is a quality that we should aspire to as part and parcel of personal growth. This wisdom derives not only from ancient philosophers and theologians but also from contemporary social science research. Analyses of the Hebrew scriptures, the New Testament, and the Koran have all exposed gratitude as central among the virtues they extol. Contemporary social science research has now ratified this ancient wisdom, concluding that gratitude stimulates a host of benefits. Specifically, we have shown that gratitude is positively related to such critical outcomes as life satisfaction, vitality, happiness, self-esteem, optimism, hope, empathy, and the willingness to provide emotional and tangible support for other people, whereas being ungrateful is related to anxiety, depression, envy, materialism, and loneliness. Collectively, such studies present credible evidence that feeling grateful generates a ripple effect through every area of our lives, potentially satisfying some of our deepest yearnings our desire for happiness, our pursuit of better relationships, and our ceaseless quest for inner peace, wholeness, and contentment. Gratitude is more, though, than a tool for self-improvement. Gratitude is a way of life.
"The emotion of gratitude, like most emotions, is difficult to conjure up at short notice. As we have discussed, the feeling, like other emotions, is a reaction to external events, and without those events it is almost impossible to recapture. The cause of an emotion is something external that triggers the feeling an elicitor, or direct cause of the feeling state. There is a particular perception or construal of the elicitor that determines the subjective feeling and its corresponding intensity. Then there is a measurable, physiological response. The emotion should cause motivational and other changes to one's thinking. Finally, there is often an expressive component that allows one to communicate the emotion to others. Those are the characteristics of an emotion, which, by definition, is transitory in nature.
"As a short-term, fleeting emotion, the feeling of gratitude cannot be acquired through willpower alone. You can't try to be grateful and then, through sheer will, automatically achieve it, any more than you can try to be happy and succeed. There is an old saying that 'happiness pursued, eludes.' You cannot obtain it through conscious striving. An internal focus on whether one is happy or trying to be happy appears doomed to fail. 'Ask yourself whether you are happy,' wrote John Stuart Mill in 1873, 'and you cease to be so.' The same holds for gratitude. If you ask yourself whether or not you are grateful, you are probably not. What I'm saying here is you can't mentally change your mood into gratitude instantaneously. So relax the feeling cannot be achieved by snapping your fingers.
"The benefits of gratitude come from the long-term cultivation of the disposition of gratefulness through dedicated practice. The disposition to experience gratitude, or gratefulness, is the tendency to feel gratitude frequently, in appropriate ways in appropriate circumstances. A person with the disposition to feel grateful has established a worldview that says, in effect, that all of life is a gift, gratuitously given. Although we cannot in any direct way be grateful, we can cultivate gratefulness by structuring our lives, our minds, and our words in such a way as to facilitate awareness of gratitude-inducing experiences and labeling them as such.
"Psychologists suggest that change, whether circumscribed or more far-reaching, does not occur overnight, but in stages. According to the stages of change model developed by the clinical psychologist James Prochaska at the University of Rhode Island, behavior change does not happen in one step. Rather, people tend to progress through different stages on their way to successful change. Also, each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate. This model has been successfully applied to understanding how people change unhealthy physical habits such as smoking and drinking, but it readily generalizes to unhealthy psychological habits. If you are thinking about becoming more grateful (and if you have read to this point in the book, you likely are), then you are in what Prochaska calls the 'contemplation phase' of change. Here you are thinking about the negative aspects of being ungrateful and the positive consequences of a more grateful outlook. You are open to receiving information about change. But you are not yet committed to actual change. My goal in this chapter is to provide you with some very concrete tools that will enable you to get to the next stage of change, the action stage.
"In the action stage, people believe they have the ability to change their behavior and are actively involved in taking steps to modify their behavior by using a variety of different techniques. Mentally, they review their commitment to themselves and develop plans to deal with both personal and external pressures that may lead to slipups. They may use short-term rewards to sustain their motivation and may think about their change efforts in a way that enhances their self-confidence. People in this stage also tend to be open to receiving help and are also likely to seek support from others, itself a critical factor in maintaining positive changes."