Society has engrained in us to always want more. We get a hit of dopamine once we get what we sought. We feel elated. But the boost is short-lived. The excitement fades away and we get back to our never-ending quest for more. Always more.
“We need to learn to want what we have, not to have what we want, in order to get stable and steady happiness.” – Dalai Lama
With this tendency of ours to want more and be dissatisfied with what we have, we miss out on the joy of gratitude. Gratitude, or appreciating your life as it is, is essential to actually enjoying life. Gratitude also plays an important role in fortifying us in times of adversity and strengthening our relationships.
Gratitude can be cultivated. Just like healthy eating habits, exercise or meditation. Gratitude is a practice. Living a more satisfying and pleasurable is possible. More gratitude is a big part of that.
Gratitude has Wide-Ranging Benefits
People who practice being grateful show significantly higher levels of happiness and psychological well-being, research shows. They are less depressed, less anxious, less stressed and report having less symptoms of physical pain. They have more success at work and have higher self-esteem. They have better relationships too.
Just two consecutive weeks of daily gratitude practice has lasting positive effects on one’s mood and level of optimism – that last for up to six months.
Gratitude is a huge psychological booster.
What Does it Mean to Be Grateful?
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Gratitude does not mean pretending everything is fine or being in denial about what is going wrong. Cultivating gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on what you appreciate. This is key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.
“Your psychological well-being depends less on the things that happen to you and more on the things you pay attention to … Gratitude will shift your brain’s attention” says Dr. Korb, author of “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.”
Appreciation softens us. It opens our heart and soothes our minds by connecting us to the wonderfully ordinary things that we otherwise take for granted.
Gratitude Fortifies Us
“Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden
Cultivating gratitude keeps us mentally resilient. In times of adversity and emotional turmoil, practicing gratitude acts as a psychological booster, one that does not let us sink too low.
Sooner or later things don’t go our way. Life often feels like it is out of our control – a feeling we can all relate to in the age of Covid-19.
We can let ourselves feel down about this lack of control. But even in dark times, there is much too appreciate. Gratitude gives us something we can control: our thoughts. We don’t need good things to happen to us, all we need is to change the way we think about what happened. Shift what you pay attention to and you can uplift your thoughts and your moods.
While we are stuck in our temporary worry, we forgot about all the other things we are lucky to have. By paying attention to the positive, we rebalance our thoughts and our feelings. Gratitude is a powerful tool that help us experience some joy even when we are going through a dark time.
Gratitude Bring Us Back to the Present Moment
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault
Gratitude can anchor us to the present moment. By focusing our attention on our sensations, we can appreciate the simple things in lives: the sound of bird chirping away; the warm touch of the sun on our skin; the voice of a loved one; the soft touch of a lover … There is much appreciation that can be felt by focusing on sensations.
Some of us can naturally appreciate the sweet moments as they happen throughout the day, while many of us need to actively cultivate gratitude. Focusing on sensations is a way to disengage from thoughts and appreciate the present moment just as it is.
“There are only two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein
Gratitude Strengthens our Relationship
Feeling grateful for our loved ones promote a sense of belonging and connectedness and also increase our happiness in our relationships. By simply finding something to be grateful for, we can overcome issues (such as anger and irritation) in our relationships and feel happier in our relationships.
Going a step further, actually voicing our appreciation to one another is a powerful way to strengthen and even repair emotional bonds. Telling your loves ones what you appreciate about them will make them feel seen and appreciated, which is crucial in relationships.
“Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.” Tom Hopkins
How to Start Practicing Gratitude?
The best way to start practicing gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal and write things for which you are grateful each day.
Describe in as much detail as possible how your body feels when you express gratitude. What kind of thoughts do you notice? Which emotions accompany these feelings? What sensations do you feel in your body?
Gratitude cannot be forced. You can’t rush through it. Take the time to explore how you feel.
After letting the feelings arise naturally, you can direct your attention to certain events to elicit gratitude. For instance, you might recall a happy memory for which you feel thankful for. Or you could turn your attention to a past problem you overcame, which might make you feel grateful for being in a better place now and having learned in the process.
“Let this become your meditation and prayer; thank God for every moment – for laughter, for tears, for everything. Then you will see a silence arising in your heart that you have not known before. That is bliss.” – Osho
Gratitude meditation is another good way to practice gratitude. There’s plenty of gratitude meditation resources on YouTube such as this 12-minute Gratitude Mediation. Here’s a simple gratitude meditation. We recommend staying with the meditation for 20 minutes every day.
- Get into a comfortable seated position.
- Relax with eyes closed.
- Take ten deep abdominal breaths, relaxing the mind and body.
- When relaxed, think about “What am I really grateful for?”
- Take whatever comes to mind first and build on that thought.
- Expand upon this positive experience or memory.
- Savor this experience and notice your bodily sensations.
- Intensify this feeling even further by vividly visualizing this memory.
- Keep that experience in mind longer than usual.