Gratitude Builds Self-Control

Thanksgiving is almost here. And while this may seem an odd time to begin working on self-control, an active gratitude practice can help us stay focused and achieve our long-term hopes and dreams.

Just think of some of the potential benefits of gratitude:

  • Ability to say “No” to that last piece of pie.
  • Ability to hold our temper a little longer when in conflict with our spouse. (Does Gratitude Matter in Marriage?)
  • Ability to save some extra money instead of blowing it on the next cool gadget.
  • Ability to study just a little longer when everyone else is outside having fun.

Gratitude comes in handy. According to a recent compilation of lab experiments on self-control, four practices were shown to build our capacity for self control. These include gratitude, compassion, authentic pride, and guilt.

“The answer is to cultivate the right emotions, the prosocial ones, in daily life. These emotions— gratitude, compassion, authentic pride, and even guilt—work from the bottom up to shape decisions that favor the long-term. If we focus on instilling the capacity to experience these emotional states regularly, we’ll build resources that will automatically spring forth in reflexive and productive ways. In essence, we’ll give ourselves inoculations against temptation that, like antibodies in our bloodstream, will be ready and waiting to combat possible threats to our well-being.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).

Ideas for Daily Gratitude Practice

Family at dinnerA great way to create a gratitude habit is to spice it up with different types of gratitude practice. Feel free to choose two, three, or all of the exercises below to get started. Remember it takes sixty-six days to create a new habit, so these exercises may not come naturally in the beginning.

  • Say “Thank you” for the mundane. “Sometimes we get so used to our partner, our mama or our kids doing the things they’ve always done — making breakfast, taking the trash out, sending us surprise packages, dressing themselves in the morning — that we forget to appreciate these small gestures. Don’t take those tiny moments for granted! Start with a small, specific and frequent, “Thank you.” (Stratejoy: 9 New Ways to Practice Gratitude)
  • Gratitude Journal: At the end of each day write three things you are grateful for.
  • Share gratitude at the dinner table.
  • Designate a glass jar as “The Gratitude Jar.” Write blessings on strips of paper at the end of each day and add them to the jar.
  • Say “Thank You” to everyone who serves you throughout the day: the cashier, waiter, grocery store clerk, etc.
  • Share “three blessings” every day with loved ones, friends, or family members.
  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone. Then, take it to them and read it in person.
  • Turn off the electronics and challenge yourself to say “thank you” for as many things as possible during your walk or drive.
  • For 100 days take a picture of something you are grateful for and share it with friends and family via social media.
  • Practice a Gratitude Meditation at the beginning of each day.

Over the next few weeks, Fuller Life will explore the other practices that build self-control: compassion, authentic pride, and guilt. Until then, enjoy this incredibly beautiful and inspiring TED talk about Gratitude created by cinematographer, Louis Schwartzberg and David Stendl-Rast.

Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.

Contributed by:

Jennifer Christian, M.A., LPC

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