“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” — Buddha
Gratitude has been a popular word recently. There have been many mentions of gratitude everywhere.
Have you wondered how some people are able to express gratitude easily and why some people struggle with it?
Have you ever wondered what the scientific basis behind the emerging interest on gratitude was based on?
Well, you have come to the right place because we are going to look at the art that is gratitude and the science behind the interest.
Chances are that there are many things going right in your life but there might be some things that are not going as well as you would like.
Chances are that you have the energy and the will to feed your body, mind and spirit with ideas and foods that nourish you.
Chances are that there are many things that are the labor of love of people all around you that grace your life.
Chances are that there are people who care about you even if it means just smiling along with you or being concerned for you.
Turns out that there might be many things that we can all be very grateful and appreciative of.
When I realized this perspective, it was as if a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders.
I was going through life feeling like a victim sometimes, and believing that things were against me, and my luck was non-existent or running dry.
Then I came across wisdom from many awesome teachers like Patanjali, Louise Hay, Marcus Aurelius, Pema Chodron, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Meister Eckhart, Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi and many many others.
The thread of realization that ran through most of the ancient and modern wisdom including some of the latest behavioral science research was the idea that living life as if it were a blessing was very good for our well-being.
What are some of the ideas on and practices of gratitude that we can incorporate into our lives and make them infinitely richer?
1. The Awareness Of a Sense Of Gratitude and Appreciation
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”― Eckhart Tolle
Do you live your life from the idea that everything is a blessing or do you live dominantly from the perspective that things do not work out and there is not much to be thankful for?
Do you have a daily practice of consciously bringing the good that you have in your life into your consciousness and amplifying it?
Or do you zero in on that one flaw and focus on it and allow your attention to stay there?
Acknowledge that some things are going well for you even though not all of them are.
Make a list of 5 things that you can be grateful for today.
Feel the gratitude and appreciation as a warm feeling in your body as you feel thankful for the blessings in your life.
You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life.”― Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance
In study titled “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior” by Adam Grant and Francisca Gino in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it was shown that expressions of gratitude increased behaviors that were prosocial.
This increased prosocial behavior was found to be the effect of people feeling more social validity.
Authors say that psychologists agree on the view that a feeling of belonging or social worth is a basic human motivation and makes people feel needed and valued.
In one part of the study, participants were asked to edit a student’s cover letter. In response to the service, participants received a grateful or a neutral message back from the student. The student then asked the participant to edit another cover letter.
There was a 34% increase of participants who agreed to voluntarily assist the student in editing the letter after receiving the grateful message, thus demonstrating that expressions of gratitude increase prosocial behavior in people.
The authors say:
“Thus, social worth—but not self-efficacy, positive affect, negative affect, or empathy—mediated the effect of an expression of gratitude from one beneficiary on prosocial behavior directed toward a different beneficiary.”
2. Do You Want To Enhance Happiness? Try Gratitude For Simple Pleasures
“Happiness isn’t complicated. It is a humble state of gratitude for simple pleasures, tender mercies, recognized blessings, and inherent beauty.”― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway
You may have been conditioned to believe that happiness is out there and it is in that success and in finding that special someone.
While all that may be true but delegating your happiness to externals will always leave you at the mercy of situations and people that are to put it mildly, outside your realm of control.
Instead, if you look for happiness in the state of thankfulness for simple pleasures, you will not be disappointed.
The gentle sound of rain outside, the smell of a cup of coffee, the positive and happy interaction with others, and the beauty of the smallest flower are all beckoning you to simply slow down and listen and be thankful for little things.
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson
Slow down enough to enjoy the beauty of life around you.
Become aware of the things that we all take for granted and express your heartfelt appreciation for them and see how your life transforms.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K. Chesterton
In a research paper from 2003 titled: “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” psychology researchers, Emmons and McCullough studied the effects of gratitude on undergraduate students.
“We found that random assignment to the gratitude condition resulted in greater levels of positive affect, more sleep, better sleep quality, and greater optimism and a sense of connectedness to others.” – Emmons and McCullough
Participants were divided into three random groups:
1. A gratitude listing group
2. A hassle listing group
3. A neutral group
The experiment consisted of asking the participants to keep a daily or weekly log of moods, health behaviors and behaviors that assisted them to cope, symptoms and their assessment of their overall life appraisal.
The gratitude exercise involved listing five things in the past week they were grateful for while the hassles group listed five irritations or hassles from the past week in their relationships, work, finances and school. The control group listed impactful events but not invoking gratitude or irritation like talking to the doctor or going to a festival.
Not surprisingly, the gratitude group felt happier, were more optimistic about their expectations for the coming week, had less physical symptoms and felt better about their life in general.
The gratitude group reported experiencing greater positive affect, reduced negative effects and were more likely to help others with their personal and emotional problems.
1. It is a good idea to focus on your blessings.
2. Write down five things that you are grateful or thankful for on a daily basis in your personal life, at work or health.
3. Gratitude allows you to have a prosocial motivation to help others with their personal and emotional problems.
4. Gratitude enhances optimistic feelings and favorable assessment of your own life and fosters better health experiences including more exercise.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”― William Arthur Ward
3. Are Your Relationships Receiving The Benefits Of Gratitude?
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust
There is nothing that makes relationships strained than the lack of appreciation and gratitude and taking everything for granted like we deserve it all and others are there to serve our needs.
People may still serve you but they will also resent it and the resentment will resurface in ways that are not pleasant.
Appreciating the effort that others are making to make you happy is the best form of responding to their kindness.
Appreciate the relationships in your life and do not miss an opportunity to say thank you from the bottom of your heart.
Find and compliment the little details of the effort that others have put in for you.
Even if you do not like something, thank them for their effort before mentioning it to them as a gentle suggestion.
Express gratitude for service people like restaurant servers and the mail person who make your life easier by providing service.
Give one compliment to a person in your life and find their strengths instead of complaining and criticizing.
Write and maintain a regular gratitude journal.
According to Robert Emmons, one of the leading researchers on gratitude, their studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal for even three weeks has significant physical, psychological and social benefits in people aged 8 to 80.
The social benefits include more generosity, being helpful, forgiving and being more outgoing. The gratitude recording group also reported feeling less isolated and lonely.
Emmons says that gratitude is a social emotion and has two components. The first one is affirming the goodness in your life.
The second being a social component where you understand that the goodness comes from a source outside of ourselves in the form of people and higher powers assisting you towards your goodness.
“First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.”
You can read the article here.
4. How to Banish The struggles of Denial, Chaos and Confusion
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”-Melody Beattie
When we are grateful for what we have, we will come across the realization that getting a lot more may not make us any happier or satisfied but enjoying and appreciating what we already have certainly fills our life with joys.
Gratitude has the amazing power to transform difficult emotions and mental states and bring some much-needed relief to them.
When I find in my life that I am being encircled by chaos, confusion, and feelings of resistance and denial, I find refuge and solace in deep heartfelt gratitude.
An attitude of gratitude always brings me back to my center and gives me relief.
Gratitude for difficult times:
When you are feeling resentful or other difficult emotions and find it difficult to release them, find something that you are thankful for and become aware of that feeling as a first step towards feeling gratitude.
As your state slowly transforms, thank the conflict or the denial in your mind and ask what can you learn from it. Allow it to be a teacher that is making you more aware of yourself.
High levels of Gratitude And Well-Being= Lower levels of difficult emotions such as denial, envy, anger and resentment
“The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.” -Neale Donald Walsch
In a research study titled “The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies,” the authors Alex Wood, John Maltby, Raphael Gillett, P. Linley and Stephen Joseph looked at the relationship between gratitude, stress, perceived social support, and depression.
The study was divided into two parts and showed that enhanced gratitude was responsible for participants feeling more socially supported and less depressed and stressed out.
In study 1, gratitude was shown over a course of time to enhance the level of appraisal and the feeling of belonging and support in a social context. This is an important finding specially because depression and stress are often compounded with the feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
The authors say:
“This is the first study to show that (a) gratitude leads to the development of social support during a life transition and (b) gratitude naturally leads to improved levels of stress and depression, which complements the existing experimental findings that therapeutically increasing gratitude causes decreases in depression.”
In study 2, the results of study 1 were confirmed and in addition it was shown that gratitude lead to well-being and social support above the big five personality traits.
The big five personality traits in psychology study are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.
This gives gratitude an unique role and importance in well-being above and beyond the personality traits that have been widely described.
1. Gratitude fosters perceived social support.
2. Gratitude lowers the levels of stress and depression.
3. Gratitude enhances well-being.
In additional studies done by Emmons, McCullough and Tsang, it was shown that enhanced and high levels of gratitude lead to lowered envy and resentment in participants.
5. The Ever Expanding Circle Of Gratitude
“The more grateful you are, the more you get to be grateful about. It’s that simple.” ~Louise L. Hay
I love the idea that the more you are grateful for, the more that you find to be grateful about in your life. It is like a ripple effect that permeates all beings of your life and your consciousness.
But remember, in the initial stages of expressing gratitude, you may not feel heightened levels of well-being and that makes many people quit.
I believe that every “thank you” said with heartfelt conviction and authenticity makes you feel a little bit better. When you repeat this practice and make it habitual, its benefits ripple across different areas of your life.
Just like the benefits of meditation and yoga do not remain confined to the mat or the meditation pillow, gratitude also shows in your face and your life.
“One grateful thought is a ray of sunshine. A hundred such thoughts paint a sunrise. A thousand will rival the glaring sky at noonday – for gratitude is light against the darkness.”― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway
Slowly increase the levels of gratitude in your life.
Make your gratitude practice intentional.
Engage all your senses while expressing gratitude: listen with appreciation, smell with delight, see with joy, and touch with intention and kindness.
Practice being in the current moment and giving thanks for this moment in its beauty and entirety.
“Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” -Estonian Proverb
Around 106 BC, Cicero declared:
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all of the others”
Readressing the same idea as Cicero, and in an excellent review article titled “Gratitude-The parent of all virtues,” authors Wood, Joseph and Linley bring to light the rapid increase of gratitude research and its rising position as a personality trait and as an emotion.
Read the review article here.
The authors raise some provocative points like why gratitude has been largely neglected by science in the past and what should the role of gratitude be in clinical practice and how to study it from a multi-disciplinary perspective?
“The experimental evidence discussed earlier suggests that increasing people’s levels of gratitude leads to greater well- being. This is logical because if you feel more gratitude you are likely to see the world as a more friendly and hospitable place in which to live.”
6. Mindful Gratitude
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”― Thích Nhất Hạnh
There are several ways to practice mindful gratitude:
Savor the current moment.
Throw the worries and stress out.
Be deliberate and mindful with your movements and thoughts.
Engage all your senses to feel and experience the beauty and joy of the current moment.
Take a walk in nature and hang out there absorbing the beauty and joy of nature.
Walk slowly as if you are kissing the ground as the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn suggests.
Develop a practice of mindfulness and intentional gratitude.
Develop a spiritual practice around your own culture and what you believe as an opportunity for gratitude to a higher power or something bigger or greater than you.
“This a a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.”― Maya Angelou
“Gratitude bestows reverence…..changing forever how we experience life and the world.”― John Milton
In a study titled “Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions” by Alex M. Wood, Stephen Joseph, Joanna Lloyd, and Samuel Atkins, in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the authors showed the relationship between gratitude and sleep.
The authors discovered that gratitude was a predictor of greater subjective sleep quality and the duration of sleep independent of the big five personality traits that have been discussed above in the post. Gratitude also predicted reduced sleep latency and daytime dysfunction in people.
This was the first time that a study showed the relationship of a positive trait like gratitude with having a better sleep quality.
We all know the benefits of good sleep to our physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. It certainly interesting to know that there is a positive correlation between gratitude and good sleep.
7. Refresh Your Scenery And Environment With Gratitude, Appreciation And Care
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus
If you are grieving for things that you do not yet have in your life, you are giving your joy and personal power away to a distant uncertainty.
There is no guarantee that we will receive that big milestone that we have in our mind’s eye and measure everything from.
Let me be clear here that expectations are essential and not the root cause of the problem.
The way I see it is that the cause of the problem is excessively living in a state of wanting something different instead of gratitude for what we already have.
A feeling of wanting but not getting reminds you of lack and limitation while a feeling of gratitude reminds you of joy and the abundance of life. Which one would you rather choose?
People are of the opinion that acceptance and gratitude for what we already have will prevent the arrival of bigger and better things. In my experience, the universe works exactly opposite of that idea.
I say ditch the lack and limitations, open the windows of your life and take a deep breath to enjoy the scenery.
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”― Meister Eckhart
“Gratitude is the sweetest thing in a seeker’s life- in all human life. If there is gratitude in your heart, then there will be tremendous sweetness in your eyes.” ― Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness
Take great care to make what you have in your life functional.
Clear out the mental, physical and emotional clutter from your life to focus on the things that matter.
Choose gratitude and abundance instead of lack and limitation.
Change “I want that” to “I am that” and “I have that.” This is an ancient spiritual truth that a state of wanting will not accomplish things but intentional becoming or being is the key to more abundance.
“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.”― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway
In a study titled “Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life,” the authors Sara Algoe, Jonathan Haidt, and Shelley Gable, study the relationship between gratitude and relationship formation and maintenance .
The authors say that gratitude is more than repaying benefits and also plays a role in building relationships. The study further reinforces the idea that gratitude serves a as a detection and response system that allows people to seek, become aware and remind and develop relationships with people who are attentive to us.
Relationships that are built on the foundations of the whole self and are responsive to the needs and preferences and the likes and dislikes of people can assist them to get beyond setbacks and allow them to flourish.
Gratitude has a role in the facilitation of the social functioning of such beneficial relationships that are key to well-being.
8. Get Over The “Why me” and Victim mentality
“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
DO you ruminate in the “why me” dilemma.
The problem is that the more you try to find reasons for why you, the more you find them.
We have all seen people who walk around their day feeling like a victim and giving away their personal power to situations and people.
See the blessings in your day instead of counting everything that is going wrong.
Make your life have a greater positive and grateful tone and dial down feeling powerless and like a victim.
“The problem that we have with a victim mentality is that we forget to see the blessings of the day. Because of this, our spirit is poisoned instead of nourished.”― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”― Epicurus
9. Be An Example By Taking Action
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”- John F. Kennedy
I have made it a point to remember that merely words are not enough at times and we need to take the actions that model that thought or word that you have.
When you are a reflection of the life that you are speaking, a model to follow, you become very inspiring to others.
Practice random acts of gratitude and kindness.
Write a letter to a teacher or a mentor in the past and express your thank you and how they helped you reach your goals.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I would like this opportunity to thank everyone who reads this site and I would like to thank everyone who is on a path of realizing their unique creativity and their personal excellence journey.
A big thanks to all the amazing teachers in my life and all the researchers who I cited in this post and who have worked tirelessly to bring research that can be implemented and makes the world a better place.
Now over to you, my AMAZING readers. Which gratitude practices work in your life and how do you count the blessings in your life?