Indebtedness can best be described as a feeling that something is owed in return for whatever we've been given. Perhaps the nice gift basket we received out of the blue, from the neighbor we barely speak to, is really cloaked in a hidden price tag...or will cost us some big obligation down the road. It's easy to become suspicious these days; to think that everything comes at a cost but, in truth, the gift may be just that; a gift given with pure intentions. With the holiday season in full-swing, it might be a good idea to find ways to encourage the feeling of gratitude while minimizing the negative effect of distrust and indebtedness that inevitably seem to pop us during the holidays. Here are four ways you can become more grateful during this gift-giving season.
1. Keep the focus on others, not just yourself. This is very similar to pursuing happiness. Happiness is easier to find when we concentrate on making the lives of others better. The same can be said for gratitude. When you focus your attention on others, just make sure that your intentions are pure...ie, that you're not just helping/giving in order to make yourself feel better. That isn't practicing gratitude. It must be genuine. Gratitude researcher (yep, there really is such a thing) Philip Watkins tells us, "Gratitude is an other-focused emotion, where we're focused on what someone else has done for us; if we focus on that, then gratiude naturally results."
2. Give gifts freely; no strings attached. When giving gifts, give them freely and with no thoughts of reciprocation. Luckily, the monetary value of a gift, it turns out, isn't much of a factor for eliciting gratitude. Sometimes, the smallest gift has the largest impact on us; especially if it's given by someone who may not have have much to give...yet still manages to share what little they have. Giving gifts feely, with a generous spirit, is associated with many of its own rewards, including happiness! The truth is, you will enjoy the giving experience even more if you give without expectation, and produce genuine feelings of gratitude and the connection you have with that individual.
3. Practice gratitude even when you're not sure it's sincere. They say that practice makes perfect; it can even work with gratitude. Research as shown that deliberate practicing of gratitude doesn't just affect the naturally grateful, but that it works on those who don't enjoy gratitude, or who tend to be narcissisitic. Some newish research suggests that this practice can benefit children, as well. Sitting down with a child and helping them to think about all the nice and kind things that others do for them, or the sacrifices that are made on their behalf, may make them respond with more gratitude on their own. Gratitude promotes happiness in children, as well as adults. So spread the wealth.
4. Stay open to the joy of giving and receiving. We know by now that gratitude makes us feel happier. In general, though, it's a good idea to nurture positive emotions all the time; maybe take a walk in nature and admire the beauty and the stillness; chatting with a good friend over tea; even listening to beautiful music, or reading an inspiring passage, can increase our sense of joy and gratitude for all that we have. These little things can lead us to feel better about giving and receiving, and lessen our feelings of indebtedness. Watkins reminds us, "Just remembering that I don't have to, but I want to, and remembering to enjoy the act of giving initself; that is the key to being able to say thank you without the weight of indebtedness."