Life, as we know it, can be a riptide of despair, a long drawn agonizing sense of catastrophe, a load of existential crisis all at once. We often find ourselves not in a state of gratitude because it’s almost as though we’ve become wired to take things for granted, especially with the instant, fast-paced world we live in today where we expect things to just happen, and happen quickly. We also tend to have a short-term gratification mindset these days, rather than long-term one. Thus with this, we tend not to think about how grateful we are for our experiences, and neglect to practice the art of gratitude.
Gratitude is a very powerful human emotion and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is defined as the state of being thankful or the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Gratitude is different from ‘appreciation’ by itself in that appreciation is the “recognition of the good qualities of someone or something,” while gratitude is both appreciation and thankfulness. It’s about appreciating what you have, even when you do not have a lot, and believing that it will change you for the better.
Now, there are many positive benefits to practicing the art of cultivating gratitude into your daily life. Science shows that gratitude affects our wellbeing in a range of ways benefiting our overall mental and physical health.
Gratitude Benefits Relationships with Others. Gratitude opens the door to a bigger number of relationships. Showing appreciation can help you make new friends. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Emotion, expressing gratitude to a new acquaintance makes them more likely to want to contact you again the future and create a relationship. Acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities no matter whether you send a thank-you note to a co-worker for helping you with a project or thank a stranger for holding the door – something as simple as that.
Gratitude Benefits Physical Health. Gratitude improves physical health according to a 2012 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Grateful people suffer less pains and aches and show a better outlooks than others. Whilst this is a correlation study, it would not be surprising if this is an actual direct link as gratitude helps to decrease physiological and mental stress, and less stress is better for our overall physical health. It also comes as no surprise that people who are more inclined to express gratitude are also more likely to take care of their health. They attend regular check-ups and exercise more often, two activities that are implicated in further longevity.
Gratitude Benefits Mental Health. It's easy for others to say that one is incredibly ungrateful if they can't think of a whole host of things that they're thankful for in their lives, but as we know, life isn't easy at all and we're all going through situations that sometimes leave us bitter and hardened. We look at our portions and are constantly full of disappointment, regrets, frustration, sorrow, and uncertainty because we want full control over our worlds. And when we lose that control, which will inevitably occur at some point in our lives, we lose the ability to be grateful for anything, because everything just seems to be unfair. But believe it or not, gratitude improves mental health by limiting negative emotions like these. Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons has carried out many studies on the connection between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude reduces depression and increases happiness.
Research also shows that gratitude increases resilience. Results of a 2006 study published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy showed war vets with higher levels of gratitude were less likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This indicates that gratitude can play a major role in overcoming trauma and reducing physiological stress and arousal.
But practicing gratitude does not always come easily to start with if you’re not used to being in a state of gratitude. Of course, like with changing most mental habits, having an attitude of gratitude generally takes regular practice. When people think about practicing gratitude or ‘being grateful’ for something, majority of people tend to think that it’s just thinking about being grateful for whatever it is they have in mind. What research shows is that it’s not just about thinking positive, but it’s also about bringing coherence between your brain (thought) and your heart (feeling) so that they’re in sync which then influences your nervous system in helpful ways. Thus, you have to not only think positive gratitude thoughts, but also feel the gratitude with your heart. This effect will amplify throughout your whole nervous system.
Yet being grateful doesn’t have to be that difficult. It doesn't have to be some kind of forced practice that you introduce into your life because you see gurus and speakers talking about it. To be grateful is something that will naturally come to you instinctively as you go through life's challenges and come out on the other side. You'll look back at where you once were, how horrible things once were, and how much you struggled, and be grateful for where you are now, because well, it isn't perfect, but it's not where you were a month ago, a year ago, or a few weeks ago.
We find out about difficult situations all the time on TV and never really occurred that it can transpire to us but anything can happen in this life and at any moment, so in the event that you have ended up in overwhelming circumstances where you really survived and are gaining ground, I need you to be grateful for this and for your life each and every day.
At the end of the day, life is all about perspective. It can be terrible and far from ideal to be able to see the good in what you believe. For life will never be perfect as long as we are on this planet and it will never go the way we expect them to be, but do keep in mind that in every experience and battles there will always be blessings. So the key to gratitude lies in your experiences, how you came back from them, and being thankful from where you are right now. That I believe is the practice of the art of gratitude.
To start practicing gratitude, take a minute out of your day to stop and appreciate something around you or within you that you’re grateful for. It could be:
As you can see, you don’t have to have major things like a brand new fancy car or a million dollars in your bank account to have things to be grateful for. So in that minute of gratitude each day, stop, bring your hand up to your heart area which we call your ‘heartspace’, think about what it is that you’re grateful for, then breathe this gratitude into your heartspace while thinking the thoughts “I am so grateful and thankful for__________”.
Want to try more gratitude practice to enhance your overall mental and physical wellbeing? Check our our 30 Days of Gratitude online course! All courses are FREE until May 30, 2020 so get in quick and sign up today!
Stay happy, healthy and well!