Having an attitude of gratitude is far from a platitude. Being in appreciation of someone or something brings untold benefits which you may not even be aware of. Gratitude is a gateway to happiness, better health and even increased productivity. And like awareness, having gratitude requires you stay in the now.
So how to you get there? Here are some things to know about gratitude and its benefits:
Intentionally choose gratitude. If the gratitude you express to others—and yourself—is genuine and comes with deliberate intent, the act of expressing it connects you with your authentic self. Expressing gratitude and appreciation as often as you can helps you feel connected with others—and yourself—because it brings joy. It’s our authentic gratitude which brings you even more to appreciate and feel grateful for.
Focusing on gratitude and expressing it to others enhances the feeling of connection, a basic human need. We may feel connected to the Earth, the universe, loved ones, or everyone and everything. It’s a pattern that repeats itself: when we are spiritually aligned and connected, we fund greater inner peace and appreciation for life.
Grateful living makes you happy
Many research studies support the link between happiness and gratitude. The act of showing gratitude boosts your brain and makes you feel good. When you say thank you or show an act of gratitude, you are firing up the brain’s neurons, often increasing your dopamine and serotonin levels.
Finding happiness starts with feeling in gratitude and expressing that gratitude, even if it’s to yourself. Author and scholar David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, has made the study of gratitude his life’s work, and has a website Gratefulness.org devoted to gratitude. “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratefulness that makes us happy,” he told Oprah in a recent appearance on Super Soul Sunday.
Steindl-Rast says to view gratitude as grateful living. Don’t wait for things to be perfect and ideal. You have an opportunity to find the good even though misfortune or disaster falls upon you. “Life gives you the opportunity to do something with what life gives you,” he says.
Find the gift
There are gifts to be found in facing adversity. When executive and philanthropist Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the former chairman and CEO of Carlson, a global travel company, lost her college-age daughter Juliet to a car accident in the 1980s, she was naturally struck with profound grief. One thing that helped pull Carlson Nelson out of a prolonged period of grief was the reflection she had on her daughter’s life, and the solace she found in a speech that her daughter had given to her fellow classmates of graduating high school seniors, just months before. The speech was poignant and included this comment by Juliet: “Life is always fragile…each one of us is given only one journey.”
As Carlson Nelson has shared with audiences, it was through her grieving process that she realized every day is a gift. She treats each day accordingly, even moreso than she did as a young financial executive and mother. Her grief greatly influenced her perspective of the world enough to change her outlook and led to transformation.
“Today is the only gift you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness…If you learn to respond as if it were the first day of your life and the very last day then you will have spent this day very well,” Steindl-Rast says in a popular video by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg.
Healthy and happy
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is a leading scientific expert on gratitude. He has discovered scientific proof that when people regularly work on cultivating gratitude, they experience many measurable benefits: psychological, physical and social.
Emmons research includes health studies which have found correlations between gratitude and stronger immune systems, fewer aches and pains, healthier diet, lower blood pressure, better sleep quality and reduced risk of heart disease. Those who cultivate gratitude also tend to get more regular exercise. In one 2003 study at the University of California, Davis, students were asked to keep regular gratitude lists, in contrast to those who were asked to write down their “hassles.” The students who logged their gratitude were happier overall, reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, and exercised nearly one and half hours more per week.
Family, friends, and others who surround grateful people report the person is measurably happier and more pleasant to be around. Emmons research also found those who practice gratitude may make transformative life changes.
Faith and trust
Spirituality is connected to feelings of gratitude, faith and trust. All major religions support gratitude as a virtue, notes the website HappierHuman. But you don’t have to be a religious person to feel gratitude. Spiritual people are likely to feel a feel a strong spiritual or emotional connection with others, and value connectedness. “If you trust life, it will always give you good things,” Steindl-Rast says.
Practicing gratitude, nearly by definition, is also humbling which is a component of spirituality and faith because it causes us to recognize the greatness of what is around us, such as our children, spouse, work, world and our God. Some take gratitude as a responsibility to uphold. Over time, gratitude becomes a regular and frequent practice. This means to recognize it, build it up and be “right” with it. All of this requires humility.
Peace and joy to pay it forward
Gratitude brings us peace because it moves us “outward” from beyond our internal contemplation to understand the importance of everything and everyone else in this world, and our relationship to it. That “outwardness” also means others get to harvest our thanks. They can even build themselves up with our gratitude. It is an ongoing “spending” of the grace we have been granted, on behalf of others’ lives which transfers our peace and love to everyone else. Imagine the power of this “gratitude spending” on a global scale.
A life led with mindful or prayerful thanksgiving will always be a joyful life because of the smiles our thanks will bring to everyone.
Here are some more ways to get in gratitude:
Write it down
Did you know that gratitude is linked to memory? The Latin root of “thank you” is “tong” which literally means “think.” In fact, in history, people expressed their gratitude by saying “I will remember what you have done for me.” When you savor something, you can experience it again and again, not only the immediate pleasure but then the fun of reflecting on the pleasure.
A great way to remember your gratitude is to write it down. The Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota recommends these steps:
- Every night, reflect on your day and remember three good things that happened. What went wall that you enjoyed or were grateful for?
- Write them down. You can use a journal, notes on your phone, or note each item on a small slip of paper and put it in a jar.
- Consider each item on the list and note why you feel good or grateful for it.
- After a week, review what you’ve written and look for themes and common occurrences.
Express your gratitude
Expressing your gratitude and showing appreciation to others multiplies its effects. Tell your loved ones, neighbors, mentors or teachers what they mean to you. Write them a letter. Show your gratitude for your life, generally, by doing a random act of kindness for someone. From even the smallest acts, such as holding a door open or buying the person in line behind you coffee, you are generating goodness. You might be surprised at what comes back to you.
Stay in the now
Many powerful things happen in the present moment. Faith happens in the now. It’s a matter of staying present for it. This level of awareness cultivates greater awareness or mindfulness.
The key to gratitude is regularly and frequently acknowledging and expressing your thanks and appreciation, even if it’s only to yourself.
Additional resources used in this report:
Nelson Carlson, Marilyn, and Cundy, Deborah. (2008). How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
David Steindl-Rast, https://gratefulness.org/
Louie Schwartzberg, https://movingart.com/gratitude-revealed/
Molly Sims, “What would make you Happy?” Oprah magazine, July 2018.
Jeff Strickler, “How an attitude of gratitude can improve your life,” Star Tribune, November 17, 2018, http://www.startribune.com/how-an-attitude-of-gratitude-can-improve-your-life/500640471/