This is Part 3 of a 4 part series of posts.
In this post, I discuss the emotion of gratitude. Being involved with others can lower the possibility that a disagreement escalates into a conflict.
To put it another way…people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
In the US next week, we will be celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday.
This Holiday is supposed to commemorate a feast that took place between native Americans and the Pilgrims who landed in America.
Today, however, It is basically an enjoyable time off from work during which we get together with family, eat too much, and watch parades or football on TV.
In my house, we’ve attempted to emphasize the “thanks-giving” part of the Holiday.
This post is an extension of that focus.
Most of us think of being “thankful” and being “grateful” as the same thing.
Well, while they are very similar, they are not the same.
Indeed, being “grateful” goes beyond being “thankful” and the emotion of “grateful”(gratitude) is both misunderstood and underutilized.
“What”, you say. “misunderstood and underutilized?”
Yes. On both counts.
First, let’s take a closer look at “thankful” vs “grateful”.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), “thankful”and “grateful”are the same with the exception of two significant words. Thankful is defined as “conscious (emphasis added) of benefits received” while grateful is defined as “appreciative (emphasis added) of benefits received.”
Being “conscious” implies only an awareness while being “appreciative” implies an involvement with whatever it is that you are choosing to acknowledge and highlight.
Here is an example of the difference between these two.
You go into work and your colleague says to you, “Hey, there, how are you doing?” In most instances, you say (often automatically) “Fine.” or “Good, and you?”
This interaction reflects ONLY an acknowledgement, or awareness, of the other person.
Now, in contrast, you meet up with an old buddy from your past and he asks you, “How are you doing?” You most likely would begin to fill him in on what has happened to you since you last met.
This is involvement.
Imagine the surprised response you would get at work if you responded to “How are with you?” with an indepth explanation of your whole weekend, the argument you had with your spouse, and so forth. This would be an example of confusing involvement with acknowledgement.
Sure, you are very familiar with saying “Thank you” whenever appropriate and maybe even being “grateful” when someone does a favor for you. But, in most cases, the emotion just sort of happens and you don’t really think about it.
Someone holds a door open for you and you say “Thanks.” Sure, you appreciate the gesture but you aren’t really involved in the interaction.
And, in fact, why should you be involved?
This is a casual interaction in which someone has done something nice for you and you have acknowledged their actions.
That’s it. You go about your business and they about theirs.
But, think for a minute about being caught in a downpour and having someone specifically notice you and the packages you are trying to keep dry, run toward the door, and hold it open so that you can run to get out of the storm. In this case, you might be both thankful and grateful.
Holding the door is the same in both cases. Going out of one’s way to help you out, as in the second example, is a step beyond.
Unlike anger, anxiety, and sadness, gratitude, as an emotion, doesn’t get much attention. It is not problematic, is easily expressed, and often only becomes an issue when someone else, who we think should be grateful for something we’ve done for them, fails to express this emotion.
Hence, it is misunderstood.
Anger, as an emotion, is also underutilized and can, therefore, be used as an example to illustrate the concept.
Because angry people and the inappropriate things they do are often seen in the news, we tend to think that there is too much anger in the world. These folks could benefit from reading my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.
The flip side of this coin, however, are many people who suppress, or choose not to show, their anger because they are concerned their anger might “take over” and lead to unwanted behavior or because, as is often the case for women, anger is perceived as unfeminine, unwelcome, or even threatening in some environments. In these cases, anger is underutilized. These folks could improve their lives and their relationships by utilizing their anger more but doing so in a more adaptive way. For them, mastering anger would also be an improvement.
For gratitude, however, the situation is different.
Gratitude is most likely not expressed more because it just is not considered relevant. People don’t usually avoid feeling gratitude.
But, going back to my Headline: The Benefits of “Gratitude….”
Did you know that, based on research, there are numerous benefits that come to the person who is grateful.
According to an article posted on positivepsychology.com, gratitude can:
- help you make friends
- improve your physical health
- improve your psychological health
- enhance empathy and reduce aggression
- improve your sleep
- enhance your self-esteem
Look, I have not verified these studies and I am not saying that they are all true or that you will experience any of these benefits.
I am, however, suggesting that there is a real possibility that expressing gratitude or appreciation toward the good things that people do for you or, if you believe in a benevolent “Universe”, the good things that are bestowed upon you, could very well benefit you. And, at the very least, will not harm you any way.
So, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.
So, how do you begin to do this?
While the article I cited above does have some suggestions, if you are not psychologically minded, the suggestions may seem a bit wonky.
To me, something you can do right now is to begin to be more mindful of your interactions with others.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to and being aware of what is happening to you in the moment. Being mindless is to react to what is going on out of habit.
In other words, take yourself off of “auto-pilot” in your relationships with others and attempt to consciously think about how others interact with you and how you want to respond to them.
Let me give you an example of being on “auto-pilot”. And, I am not suggesting that you eliminate “auto-pilot” because, when appropriate, being on “auto-pilot” enables you to multitask.
When you shower in the morning and go through your hair-washing routine, have you ever found yourself wondering if you used the conditioner? You did, of course, but it is as if you weren’t even there. And, the interesting part is that on the level of consciousness, you weren’t there because you were thinking of something else.
The same thing happens when you can’t “remember” where you put your car keys. Memory isn’t the issue, you were thinking about something else (You weren’t mindful) when you tossed your keys down. So, the location never made it into memory in the first place and wasn’t available to you when you tried to access it.
So, regarding gratitude, stay in the moment. Someone does something nice for you, consciously thank them and think about appreciating their interaction with you.
It will take some time to begin expressing gratitude as an ongoing part of your interactions with others.
But, stay with it and it will happen.
If you are in the US, Happy Thanksgiving.
If you are not in the US, Happy Thanks-giving.
Part 4 will be published in two weeks.