From our first days of life on this earth, we are intrinsically and physiologically driven to fill various needs. From food and friendship to water and a sense of belonging, we usually find our satiation solutions through external means. As a matter of habit, it’s not long before we find ourselves wrapped up in the idea of value judgment based on the concept of “supply and demand,” where the more scarce something is, the more valuable it becomes, especially when there’s increasing demand for it.
In a nutshell, a thought process like that can be summarized as a “lacking mentality” in which we are all driven to satiate our needs for fear of lacking something. It’s much the same mental state as chemically dependent persons who are always seeking their next “fix.” But what if I told you it was possible to be spiritually satiated and genuinely happy, without the use of external means? That and more is possible, with gratitude.
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What Are The Benefits Of Gratitude?
Now when I say gratitude, most people automatically assume that appreciation is something given in exchange for receiving something. In a matter of speaking, that is correct. However, what we usually don’t take into consideration is that we have been given things our entire lives, an abundance of things every single day, yet we wait to give gratitude for the things we look to obtain in the future. Gratitude becomes transactional, you provide me with something, and I show my appreciation for helping me to “lack” less in my life.
But what if gratitude was less about the avoidance of “lacking” and more about fostering feelings of abundance? When we genuinely give our appreciation for the abundance we already have in life, we begin to realize that we don’t lack anything. Well then, what are the benefits of gratitude, anyway?
How gratitude affects your health, and ultimately, your well-being, is a genuinely subjective experience. From feelings of greater joy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus, to an increase in overall optimism and positive emotions, gratitude enables you to realize how truly blessed you are.
But how does gratitude affect your health, you may ask? In a study done in the Personality and Individual Differences Journal, 962 Swiss adults, ranging in age from 19 to 82 years old, were tested on whether inherent gratitude is able to predict physical health in adults, and if so, whether this correlation occurs because grateful individuals already lead healthier lives, either emotionally or physically. It was found that an existing disposition of gratitude correlated well with individually reported physical health. This link was illustrated by better psychological health, healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns. Although the findings suggested that the benefits were more strongly correlated with the older participants, it illustrates the fact that gratitude has a strong causality with getting sick less often and feeling better about one’s life as a whole.
In another study of athletes who were directed toward gratitude by their coaches, it was found that athletes with higher levels of gratitude increased their self-esteem overtime when they had higher effective trust in their coaches. This meant that they had more energy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus on their sport, as well as better resilience during trying times.
Now that you know why gratitude is essential let’s explore some ways that gratitude may be currently out of reach for some of us.
Why Do People Have Trouble Feeling Grateful?
When we live our lives in the lacking mentality, it is the pathway of least resistance to look around at all the things we don’t have. A grumbling stomach, a dwindling bank account, or even feelings of despair or unhappiness can all be triggers for our feelings of shortage. It is for this reason that we may find it difficult to acknowledge what we DO have at the moment. Furthermore, it may be difficult to practice gratitude as it reminds us of what we may have lacked in the past.
No matter the reason for our aversion, it must be said that progress in life is never comfortable. By diligently and consistently working to redefine our ideas of “happiness poverty,” we can begin to reap the fruits of our labor. No matter your starting point or current situation, we all have something to be thankful for.
In life, the only thing we can truly control is our intent; everything else is just circumstance. By changing our intent to be happy and grateful for what we have, we slowly heal from the scars that our previous shortfalls may have caused.
How gratitude affects your health is up to you. However, even if it is only to avoid the feelings of “lacking,” it is reason enough to give it a try.
Now that we know why gratitude is essential, wouldn’t it be nice to have some pointers to get you started on your journey?
How Can We Feel More Grateful?
Everybody is different in the way they go about enacting positive change in their lives, so there exist many different schools of thought on how to practice gratitude. I suggest you give the next couple ideas, some thought, put them to use, and figure out which ones resonate and serve you best to get you started. Then, as you become more open to self-appreciation, begin to work on the other avenues to round out your experience. Starting anything in life is always the hardest part.
Challenge Your Critical Inner Voice
We all have an inner voice. It’s that self-talk chatter in our heads that combines conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases. It’s an effective way for the brain to interpret and process daily experiences. However, all too often, the voice in our heads is responsible for critical, self-deprecating, and fundamentally negative comments that don’t serve our self-esteem well.
If you had a friend that spoke to you the way you talk to yourself, how long would you hang out with them? Question what your negative inner chatter is telling you because changing your self-talk to be more uplifting, positive, and supportive can be the catalyst you need to live a happy, more appreciative, life.
Act Grateful And Be More Accepting
We can never truly understand someone’s situation until we have walked a mile in their shoes. When we are unjustly criticized for our actions or comments, we tend to react negatively, thus destroying any possibility of compassion or empathy for those who “attacked” us.
It isn’t until we realize that everyone has their trials and tribulations in life that they’re dealing with at the time that we truly begin to act with love and support for our fellow humans. It reminds me of the golden rule, “do unto others as you wish done unto you.” However, life will test us periodically with negative people or experiences we bring in to our lives. In that case, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When we are mindful, we carefully observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.
Just as we strive to see the best in people and be more accepting, we must also be more accepting of ourselves. We are all a combination of light and dark, yin and yang, so acting to avoid the “darkness” is no way to find balance in your life. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a skill in which we can find balance through accepting ourselves at the moment and being present. Being grateful for the chance to experience life as we know it, ups and downs create within ourselves feelings of compassion and self-love.
Without experiencing the lowest of lows, we can never appreciate the highest of highs. Through mindfulness right now, we can be akin to the proverbial phoenix, rising from the ashes of the past to soar into the future.
Awaken Your Sense of Wonder
The biggest plague of our existence is monotony. It is the loss of wonder and excitement that we hold for this life and everything we plan to achieve. When our awe for life is extinguished, it takes with it our ability to look into the future and realize that there is a multitude of amazing experiences awaiting us.
We all see the world around us differently, but it is our job as humans and individuals to set our intent to pursue the things that genuinely cause us joy. A sense of wonder can be considered a lens to see the world through. Through gratitude and self-love, we can all see the world through rose-colored glasses.
How To Practice Gratitude?
Gratitude, much like every other skill, is an ability that should be honed and developed. Once you have your intent set on being thankful, you can then begin to put in place some practices that continue to serve you on your journey.
Keep A Gratitude Journal
Chances are, we’ve all kept a journal at one time or another to record and make sense of the world around us, but you may ask yourself, “What is a gratitude journal ?”
In a nutshell, a gratitude journal is where you record the things that you are grateful for in life each day. Usually completed at the same time every day (whether it be before bed, upon waking, before meditating, or otherwise), the gratitude journal “asks” you a series of thoughtful questions:
- Who or what inspired me today?
- What brought me happiness today?
- What brought me comfort and deep peace today?
To find a deeper understanding of what you’re grateful for, try to avoid repeating answers from day to day so that you may bring more gratitude into your life.
Drafting A Letter of Appreciation
Another act of gratitude may be drafting a letter of appreciation. Choose five people that have made a positive impact on your life and write them a letter of appreciation. Often the person who receives the message of gratitude doesn’t know how genuinely integral they have been in your life. It gives you an outlet to appreciate another kindred soul while also spreading the love and gratitude directly to them. You’ll be surprised at the results!
And lastly, do yourself a favor and go out on a gratitude walk. In times of high stress or worry, a gratitude walk in which you ponder all the things you’re grateful for can be a welcome reprise. It also serves another purpose in that it allows you to be present at the moment as you experience the beauty all around you in the smell of flowers, the sight of vibrant colors in birds and butterflies, or the warm feeling of sunlight on your skin.
In closing, I want to challenge you to be the best human you can be by not only practicing gratitude for yourself but by leading by compassionate example to all of those around you.
So the next time you’re asked by a loved one, “How does gratitude affect YOUR health?” you’ll be more empowered to share your experiences with specific examples. Should a child or friend discover your journal and ask “What is a gratitude journal?” you can approach the conversation as a teaching and/or mentorship opportunity to spread the benefits of gratitude and self-love.
Spread the love, because we truly do reap what we sow.