How practicing gratitude can support a minimalist life

theoretical minimalist book research happy gratitude more of less minimalism theory

Stress and anxiety can lead us to hoard. To take comfort in the things that surround us. We may come to rely on things to distract us and bring us happiness.

So when I began reading on the subject of gratitude, I realised the link this practice may have in supporting a person on their journey into minimalism – and into a happier life, for that matter.

Countless studies show that gratitude can boost happiness and reduce levels of stress and depression. When I read Janice Kaplan’s book ‘The Gratitude Diaries’, one of the first pieces of information I bookmarked was this:

An article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology evaluating all the literature in the field concluded that gratitude may have the highest connection to mental health and happiness of any of the personality traits studied. The conclusion: ‘Around 18.5 per cent of individual differences in people’s happiness could be predicted by the amount of gratitude they feel.’ Now, that made me stop. Being 18.5 per cent happier is a lot of happier.

Janice Kaplan, 2016, p.15

Janice Kaplan goes on to keep a gratitude diary throughout the year, applying gratitude to a variety of situations; relationships, work, health and, most interestingly for me, the stuff we own. Can gratitude really help us to want and need less?

In Joshua Becker’s book ‘The More of Less’ the author tackles the topic of consumerism and how we are manipulated into filling our home with stuff and spending money we don’t have. Yet, even when we get the thing we want, we still aren’t satisfied.

Consumption never fully delivers on its promise of fulfillment or happiness. Instead, it steals our freedom and results only in an unquenchable desire for more. It brings burden and regret. It distracts us from the very things that do bring us joy.

Joshua Becker, 2016, p.47

The research of behavioural economist Tom Gilovich from Cornell University, supports Becker’s words. The findings discussed in Kaplan’s book showed, time and again, that material possessions are not as satisfying as we think they will be.

This is the very essence of what psychologists call the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’. You want it. You acquire it. You’re not as happy as you thought you would be. You look for the next big thing.

You can avoid getting trapped in this materialistic cycle by practicing gratitude. This keeps your focus on the things you DO have rather than the things you don’t have. It can help you feel satisfied and that you already have abundance in your life, without the need to acquire more.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little

Epicurus – Greek philosopher

Psychology and neuroscience researchers from Baylor University concluded that “materialism has been consistently related to lower levels of life satisfaction”. As a result of Kaplan’s year-long experiment to maintain a grateful outlook, her life satisfaction increased and she realised that she didn’t need stuff in order to be happy:

Instead of trying to psychological holes of the soul with jewellery and clothes and cars, it’s better to use gratitude to make the emptiness disappear altogether. As an extra bonus, people who are grateful are less likely to yearn for the stuff that ultimately won’t add to overall well-being, anyway.

Janice Kaplan, 2016, p.110

HOW TO HARNESS GRATITUDE TO SUPPORT YOUR MINIMALIST JOURNEY

There are many things you can do bring gratitude into your life and boost your life satisfaction levels – here are just a few ideas:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Write the details of events you were grateful for as and when they occur so that you can look back over them during less-than-grateful times.
  • Record three things you’re grateful for. Do this in your daily diary every night to record good things that happened. It might be a phone call with a friend, a lovely meal, working in a job you enjoy etc.
  • Make a list. Brain-dump all the things – and I mean ALL the things – you could be grateful for, from your ability to breathe to your favourite blend of tea.
  • Go for a walk and notice all the things you can be grateful for; the weather, your surroundings, those smiling faces, the convenient location of the local post office, the sunset.
  • Enjoy a bit of manifesting by feeling grateful for the things you will have over the years to come; your dream career, future family, the home you’ll build, strong mental health etc.
  • Actually say ‘thank you’ out loud when thinking about something you’re grateful for.

In Fearne Cotton’s uplifting book ‘Happy’, the author believes ‘the wheels of our economy are spun by the feeling that we don’t quite have enough’ (Cotton, 2017 p. 216). She suggests that gratitude is a great habit to learn in order to feel lucky rather than lacking.

Feeling gratitude – real, whole gratitude – comes in spontaneous waves when you’re on the edge of sheer bliss, where it feels only right to smile and beam a big THANK YOU or the simple things that lie in front of you. Saying it and really meaning it can massively awaken your senses and perspective to what there is in life to feel thanks for.

Fearne Cotton, 2017, p. 215

The author suggests exercises to harness gratitude including writing a gratitude list or diary, seeking out little things to appreciate each day, noting down small things you are grateful for to build up a bank of gratitude and eve thanking bad experiences for lessons learnt.

Have you experienced higher levels of life satisfaction after practicing gratitude. Do you keep a gratitude diary? Have you become less materialistic as a result? What other techniques can you suggest? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Becker. J. (2016) The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. Colorado: Waterbrook Press

Cotton, F. (2017) Happy: Finding joy in every day and letting go of perfect. London: Orion Spring.

Kaplan, J. (2016) The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on The Bright Side Transformed My Life. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd