The benefits of giving thanks are many
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we turn our attention toward gratitude. And while many of us this time of year reflect upon the gifts we’ve been given in our lives, it turns out we should be practicing gratitude year-round. Gratitude, in a sense, is the gift that keeps on giving, as it has many lasting benefits.
If you take a few moments to think about it, you can likely remember several things others have done for you for which you’re grateful. Maybe someone showed you extreme kindness. Maybe someone was patient with you or especially compassionate when you were struggling with something. Or maybe someone did something remarkable and selfless for you, something you can never repay. Did a friend set aside time to help you with a project? Or did someone help you learn a new skill? By calling these events or gifts to mind with gratitude, we begin a powerful process that can actually improve our lives.
So, what are the benefits of adopting an attitude of gratitude? Let’s take a closer look.
Having an attitude of gratitude: how it pays you back
Here are some of the many ways that being grateful can improve our lives.
You could live longer
Want to live longer? Being optimistic and positive has been shown to increase life span. As a result, it is widely believed that being grateful can actually increase your longevity.
Being grateful makes you a happier person
It’s scientifically proven that gratitude not only makes us feel good in the short term, but it helps us notice the goodness that’s all around us on a regular basis. Some studies have shown that gratitude can even permanently increase your level of happiness–above the level you regularly experienced in the past. In addition, some studies even show that gratitude may help reduce the symptoms of depression, by placing focus on what others are doing for us, versus self-directed criticism.
Your stress levels could be reduced
Gratitude is shown to reduce stress hormones in the body while increasing a hormone known as DHEA, which demonstrates physiological relaxation.
You could strengthen your coping strategies
Resilience allows us to overcome in the wake of setbacks or difficult situations, and gratitude is shown to increase resilience. Why? Because when you have an attitude of gratitude, you see the bigger picture, and bad events or stress hold less power over us.
Your health and well-being could improve
Research shows that people who practice gratitude often enjoy better, deeper, longer sleep, because their positive emotions activate a relaxation response in their nervous system. In addition, gratitude is shown to reduce blood pressure and strengthen a person’s immune system.
Tips for practicing gratitude regularly
Now that you know some of the many benefits of having an attitude of gratitude, you may be wondering how to incorporate gratitude into your everyday life. First, adopt a practice of mindfulness, so that you observe all of the moment-to-moment magic around you: the way the wind plays with the tree branches, how the sunlight changes color throughout the day, the giggle of a baby, the tears of happiness in a friend’s eyes. Second, you may want to begin keeping a journal where you can record the things that made you grateful throughout the day. Or you might just incorporate a nightly practice of recalling to mind some of the gifts for which you are grateful, before you fall asleep at night. Choose whatever practices work best as a regular addition to your life, and you will begin to feel the benefits of adopting an attitude
Take this quiz to find out!
When it comes to differing points of view, changes in life, or nuances in behavior, how tolerant are you? People who are tolerant or tend to be intolerant often exhibit certain behaviors and preferences. So whether we’re talking about your tolerance or intolerance to matters like politics, religion, sexuality, race and more, most people fall on a spectrum of overall tolerance or intolerance.
Take this quiz to see how tolerant you are.
Being selfless is a powerful way to change the world around you
There’s so much in our world today that seems to reward a focus on ourselves, whether it’s likes for our selfies, heart emojis for our Instagram stories or videos that go viral. But the benefits of selflessness go far beyond the momentary happiness we might get from online attention. And the results of selflessness can be seen and felt by our families, our coworkers and our communities.
And to be honest, it will feel good to you, too.
So how, exactly does selflessness transform the people and places around us, including where we work and live? Here are four ways.
1. Teamwork makes the dream work
How is the atmosphere at your workplace? Is there a lot of unhealthy competition, maybe some backstabbing and gossip? When you focus on selflessly supporting the team at work rather than getting ahead yourself, the collective group rises together. This can improve productivity, reduce frustrations and speed innovation at the office because everyone is working together toward a common goal. In the end, when you find you need someone to give you a helping hand, you can rest assured they’ll be there for you, because you had their back.
2. Selflessness is a core trait of effective leaders
When you bring selflessness to the workplace and into the community, the pressure to get the standard rewards for climbing the corporate ladder dissipate. Instead, you have the joy of watching others thrive with your help and potential mentorship. When others see how hard you work for the whole group, it builds trust. Selflessness is an important leadership quality, so, who knows? You might just get that promotion or get hired at that awesome organization, just for doing the opposite of looking out for #1.
3. Selflessness builds communities
When you serve in your community, you help lay the foundation for a strong, vibrant future. Whether you are volunteering at sunrise to pass out water at the local road race fundraiser, serving as a tutor to someone who is struggling in school or giving generously and anonymously to those in need, you have a direct impact where you live. That impact lasts for years to come. So when that local park is built, or the soup kitchen expands, or the student you helped graduates, you can feel good knowing you played an essential role in it.
4. Selflessness strengthens relationships
Selfishness has a toxic influence in our homes. It can cause conflict, spur arguments and destroy families. It can erode the trust and love in a relationship. And it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of fighting for what is best for yourself—because so often we are told that our happiness as an individual is what’s most important.
But, is it?
When we serve others in our home selflessly, maybe by offering to do chores that aren’t ours to do, by taking care of our pets with love and compassion, by caring for a sick sister or making dinner so mom gets the night off, it can shift an entire family dynamic. Suddenly, those who feel they’re carrying too much of the burden realize they’re not alone. Those who are suffering with illness can take the time they need to heal. Those who need a listening ear, know they can trust you with the worries that weight them down and that you will selflessly take the time to listen.
Selflessness: how you can create a better world
There’s a lot of temptation to be selfish in this world—to take what we want when we want it and not give a thought to the impact it might have on anyone else. But being selfish is an empty and lonely road. On the other hand, selflessness enables you to support and strengthen the people and places around you, creating a seismic shift toward goodness in all aspects of your life. In the end, you’ll have stronger relationships, better communities, helpful and happy teammates and a brighter collective future.
Acts of kindness call for intentionality
We often hear about “random acts of kindness.” In fact, they’re encouraged. We at Character Lives promote the idea as well. But if we truly want to fill our world with these so-called random acts of kindness, we really must begin with intentional acts of kindness.
Being intentional about kindness gives us a chance to practice the activities that will turn kindness into a habit — anywhere and everywhere we go. If you’re familiar with us at all, you know we’re all about practicing to build new, healthy habits that will create kinder, gentler communities all around us.
Take the 12-day kindness challenge
To that end, we have a new kind of challenge for you. This challenge focuses on kindness, perhaps the most fundamental of character essentials. The challenge is to complete one of the following intentional acts of kindness every day for the next 12 days. It’s fine (even better) to repeat the same challenges multiple times during the 12 days ahead, but the goal is to complete everything on the list.
At the end of the challenge, reflect on your actions and how they affected your sense of happiness and well-being. Did you learn anything about yourself? About others? Choose one word to describe the experience and share it in the comments below.
Day 1: Pay for coffee or drink for person behind you.
Buy a soft drink or coffee today for the person behind you in line. You just might make their day!
Day 2: Pay a genuine compliment.
Give genuine compliments to five people you notice throughout the day. This should be a mixture of friends and strangers. Look for people picking up trash or holding the door open and thank them for their thoughtfulness. Look for some unique style or clothing. Observe how your lunch server or bus driver interacts with you.
Day 3: Let another driver merge into your lane.
Whenever you are merging (walking, biking, driving) with others, let at least one person go before you.
Day 4: Send a thank you note.
Write an anonymous note to a teacher, staff member or colleague at your school or workplace. Thank them specifically for the work they do, but don’t make it obvious who it is from.
Day 5: Hold the door open for someone.
Hold the door open for someone who’s pushing a stroller or has their hands full. Better still, do it for everyone entering or exiting at the same time you are … just for the kindness of it.
Day 6: Gather clothes you no longer wear and puzzles or games you don’t play anymore and donate them.
You’ll get rid of clutter in your in your closets and give new life to items you no longer need. Best of all, you’ll be giving someone else an opportunity to put their best foot forward.
Day 7: Volunteer at a local shelter or meal program.
Volunteering to help people in need isn’t just a kind thing to do, it also gives you purpose, meet new people and maybe even pick up a new skill or two.
Day 8: Leave extra money in the vending machine.
Put a dollar in the vending machine and don’t buy anything. Just walk away knowing that someone lucky is going to be enjoying a snack for the wonderful price of free.
Day 9: Donate blood.
In less than one hour, you can literally help save someone’s life. If you’re able to give, make sure to do it as part of this 12-day challenge.
Day 10: Run an errand or take a meal to a new mom or sick friend.
Few things say you care better than a meal for a person or family who could really use a little help.
Day 11: Help an elderly neighbor.
Something as simple as helping an older person load groceries into their car, mowing their lawn or — dare we say it — shovel snow from sidewalks may well mean more to them than you’ll never know…well, until you’re 80, too.
Day 12: Leave sticky notes.
Write 10 Post-it notes with your favorite uplifting quotes or lyrics and post them on walls, mirrors or desks around your school or workplace. A good quote or song lyric can sometimes be a huge pick-me-up for someone having a bad day. It’s also fun to share the things that inspire you with other people. You never know how important those simple words will be to them!
Begin practicing intentional acts of kindness today.
As you conclude the challenge, don’t forget to choose one word to describe the experience and share it in the comments below. You may be surprised to see what people say. In the meantime, here’s to kindness everywhere!
When describing what it means to be someone of high character, it’s almost impossible to avoid words like perseverant, committed, dedicated and grit. For us at Character Lives, we fold these qualities under the commitment umbrella, one of the eight essentials in character development.
If you’ve been with us for a while, you know building character is like building muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. So how are you doing on your quest to develop commitment? Try our commitment calculator to see how you’re doing and find tips for building that commitment muscle.
CharacterStrong describes honesty as being free from deception: not only saying true things but living a life that is consistent. In this blog, we’ve looked at the latter, at how honesty is about more than telling the truth, but this infographic offers a look into the honest truth about telling lies. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Learning patience requires, well, patience
It seems some people are born with patience; the rest of us have to learn it. Learning patience is more complicated in today’s digital world where we’ve become accustomed to doing so much so immediately. But the real irony of learning patience is that it requires patience in the first place. It’s a conundrum.
Becoming more patient benefits ourselves more than anyone
Fortunately, science has found we can develop patience through practice—and that we should for our health and well-being. Consider these connections research has uncovered.
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The evidence is clear: we all benefit from increased patience. So how can we practice to increase ours?
Practicing patience: big-picture strategies
Develop a plan to become more patient. Take the following steps, being careful to start small and build as you become stronger.
1: Identify triggers—Think about situations that try your patience and identify why those situations are difficult for you. Once you know your triggers, you can devise strategies to improve.
2: Force yourself to slow down—This begins with scheduling adequate time for your activities. Give yourself an extra 15 minutes to drive where you need to go. Intentionally speak more slowly. Try meditation.
3: Make yourself wait—Put yourself in situations where you know patience will be required. Intentionally visit a popular restaurant or coffee drive-up during prime hours. Your favorite TV show? Record it and wait until the weekend to watch it. Or go grocery shopping on a Saturday mid-morning.
4: Say no to multi-tasking—Everyone today seems busy with too many responsibilities and projects to juggle. The temptation to multi-task is great (if even achievable), but trying to do too many things at once creates a sense of hurriedness, which frequently follows us in all aspects of our lives.
Practicing patience: in-the-moment
While the above strategies can be very effective in helping us develop patience over time, we still need help being more patient in the meantime (and in situations we haven’t anticipated). If you find yourself becoming impatient in a given moment, try these these strategies. You’ll love them for their immediate effects!
5: Take a deep breath. Shallow breathing is one of the first signs of impatience. Take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Deep breaths not only calm your mind, but they also increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and decrease the concentration of stress hormones.
6: Think about the person creating your wait. Imagine being in that person’s shoes. Perhaps it’s someone going through a stack of coupons in a grocery store line; they’re doing so because it’s the only way to feed their family. That speeding driver that just cut you off? Imagine their partner in the car is in labor and about to give birth.
7: Imagine the outcome. The person in front of you at the fast-food drive-up just ordered $50 worth of food. So what’s the worst that can happen if it takes five minutes away from your lunch hour? Or you’re in a long line for the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. Think about the reward that awaits when it’s finally your turn.
8: Take a time-out. If the stress of waiting is causing you to overheat, take a time-out. We’re no different than children in that regard. Sometimes we just need to step away from the situation to regain perspective about what’s really important. Speaking of which, next is the strategy we’ve found to be most helpful in all situations.
9: Think gratitude. In a long line of traffic exiting an event? List the good things in your life—your family, good friends, good health, your animal companion, having a place to call home, fresh air and nature, clean water to drink. You get the gist. Before you know it, you’ll be so absorbed in this happiness exercise, you’ll forget about being in a rush.
Commitment means the difference between failure and success
Chances are you’ve heard the oft-repeated statistic: only 8% of those who set New Year’s goals achieve them, a statistic backed by research from the University of Scranton. If you ever stopped to wonder what that 8% did differently from the other 92%, one word has like come to mind: commitment.
Commitment is powerful. It makes the difference between failure and success at work, at school and at home. It affects how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about our relationships with others. When we fail on our commitments, our integrity and self-esteem are diminished, and others learn we cannot be trusted. We find ourselves making excuses and blaming others, distracting us further from the things we should be doing.
Failing to commit
Most people mean well when they make a commitment, but we sometimes forget the meaning of the word.
In “The British Himalayan Expedition,” W. M. Murray wrote, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”
Treating commitments as goals increases achievement
Committing is like goal-setting. It’s saying we will accomplish this task. Viewing commitments as goals lends insights into how to keep them and achieve what we said we would.
Choose to commit.
Be fully present when you commit to things, considering them carefully and thoughtfully in advance. Understand, as Murray wrote, once you’re committed, you should not draw back. When you choose whether to commit, consider your ability and your time. Be specific about your commitment and seek to stretch yourself. Goal-setting researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that setting specific and challenging goals leads to higher performance 90 percent of the time.
Write it down.
We hear this all the time, but there’s good reason for it. Writing down our commitments encodes them in our brains. The process of encoding takes our thoughts into the hippocampus, where they go from short-term concepts to long-term memory. Studies have shown that people who vividly describe their goals (or commitments) in writing are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them.
Ask someone to hold you accountable.
In a study from the American Society of Training and Development, researchers found that if you commit to someone outside yourself, you have a 65% chance of completing a goal. But if you have a specific accountability check-in with the person you committed, your odds of success increase to 95%.
Honesty is about being our authentic selves
Oftentimes when we think of honesty, our thoughts turn to telling the truth. Who broke the window? Do these pants make me look fat? Are you angry at me? But honesty is more about who we are as people. It’s so much more than what we say. It’s who we are, what we do, how we live and how we relate to others. It’s about authenticity.
In today’s world, especially with the ubiquity of social media, it’s easy to get pulled into cultivating an identity that isn’t true to ourselves. We tend to show the world our best and brightest moments and omit the ones when we’re our most human versions of ourselves. We want to give others an impression of who we are. But an impression, by definition, is an idea of someone formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.
Dishonesty masks our true selves
Let’s say for example that you want to impress someone you find attractive. You like indie music and hate the hard stuff, and you’re vegetarian out of principle. He, however, is thrash metal all the way and lives on animal protein. Do you study up on thrash metal and pretend to love it just so you’ll have something in common? Do you suddenly feign a fondness for meat?
What happens when our true selves begin to eke out? How can our relationships grow if they’re based on lies?
Being inauthentic is like wearing a mask, a barrier that keeps others from knowing — and loving — the real you. Further, people can sense a mask. They may not be able to put a finger on it, but they’ll sense something isn’t right, and they won’t trust you.
Honesty is keeping it real with others
When we’re our true selves, we not only remove the burden of pretending we’re someone we’re not, but we also connect more authentically in all relationships. We can be more real — more honest — in every way.
Being authentic doesn’t mean we have to put 100 percent of our real selves out there for everyone. We can reserve parts of ourselves for certain people and settings, so long as we don’t misrepresent ourselves.
Honesty is keeping it real with ourselves
Author Brené Brown put it well. “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
In the end, honesty isn’t just about being truthful with others, it’s about being true to ourselves.
It’s widely accepted that forgiving someone who’s wronged us lifts an emotional burden. But a wealth of science has demonstrated the strong connection between our minds and bodies: better mental health means better physical health. And when we choose to forgive, we are taking proven steps to increase our physical health.
That’s not necessarily an easy choice, though. For most of us it requires a conscious choice and, oftentimes, disciplined thought. This infographic illustrates the physical benefits of doing the work and the steps for getting there.