Are you a grateful person?
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Gratitude is a concept that makes most of us want to roll our eyes or mentally shut off. Since childhood, we’ve associated gratitude with cliche semi-religious teachings such as “count your blessings” and “smile and be thankful.”
We were also taught to say “thank you” more as a sign of social decorum and politeness, than genuine gratitude growing up. And if we didn’t say “thank you,” we were scolded or thought of as being badly behaved.
As adults, we see pollyannaish quotes about gratitude floating around feel-good social media channels, with quotes like “There is always, always something to be thankful for” and “Adopt an attitude of gratitude” making us want to cringe.
So as you can see, gratitude has never really been something we’ve truly, well, been grateful for. We tend to associate gratitude with control, punishment, and shame (thanks to childhood conditioning) and cheesy rose-colored philosophies (thanks to adult conditioning).
Why Your Life Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all of the others – Cicero (106–43BC)
One of the biggest reasons why we’re so indifferent to being grateful is because we’re such a fast-paced and stressed-out society. Slowing down and appreciating what is already good about our lives seems to be fanciful, unrealistic, and sometimes just plain hysterical. I mean, have you ever tried to be grateful in the middle of a breakup, a funeral or a chaotic household? Have you ever tried to feel grateful while you’re depressed and feel like the world is ending?
There is a time and place for everything, and gratitude can easily be used as a way to emotionally or spiritually bypass experiencing the pain that arises in the present moment. So this article is definitely not suggesting that you misuse gratitude as a way of escaping your problems or being unrealistic. When you’re feeling stressed, angry or depressed, it’s important that you first be present with these emotions. Don’t try to plaster them with a gratitude band-aid – it’s just not the right place and time. Instead, breathe deeply, be mindful, and take care of yourself. Gratitude can come later.
That being said, your life doesn’t have to be perfect to practice gratitude. What is perfection anyway? It’s a concept created by the mind, and the mind is very unpredictable, forever seeking more. If you are waiting for your life to be perfect to practice gratitude, you’ll be waiting for a very, very long time.
The wonderful thing about being grateful is that it helps us to feel joy and contentment, no matter how messy, flawed or busy our lives look. In fact, we actually feel gratitude the most powerfully when we manage to be thankful for what we have, despite how imperfect our lives feel. Gratitude helps us to realize that everything is fine just the way it is, helping us to stop fighting, striving, and chasing happiness – which only makes us more deeply unhappy.
Gratitude anchors us to the present moment. And as you may or may not have learned, the present moment is the ONLY moment we EVER have to find peace and contentment. This may sound obvious, but many of us forget that the past and future cannot bring us happiness because they simply do not exist in the present moment. Gratitude is one of those powerful tools that help us to experience the joy we’re constantly longing for.
7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
Scientists, neurologists, and psychologists are all becoming increasingly interested in the field of gratitude. Here is what research reveals about gratitude:
1. More content and less materialistic
It comes as no surprise that materialism (buying things to make us happy) actually makes us unhappy. While the temporary burst of dopamine from buying things gives us the illusion that stuff makes us “happy,” that feeling soon wears off. Pretty quickly, we become mentally and emotionally hooked on the belief that material possessions create happiness. Like junkies, we keep buying more and more, which drains our pockets and leaves us feeling empty at the end of the day.
Research has shown that gratitude makes us less materialistic and envious of other people. This ability to be content actually improves happiness and long-term well-being.
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2. More empathetic and forgiving
Gratitude has been shown to increase empathy and our ability to care about other people. When faced with an aggressor, grateful people were shown to be less reactive, more caring, and understanding of the other person.
3. Protects you from stress
Being grateful actually helps to lower physical and psychological stress within the mind and body. Stress is also a major cause of psychosomatic illness (or sickness that originates from psychological distress), meaning that gratitude helps to calm the whole body. Researchers have also found that gratitude helps us to successfully deal with stress and adversity while we are experiencing it.
4. Helps you to sleep more deeply
Interestingly, being grateful actually helps you to sleep better. A study in 2009 found that gratitude helps to increase the depth and length of sleep. In the words of the researchers, “Gratitude predicted greater subjective sleep quality and sleep duration, and less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction.”
5. Strengthens spirituality
Expressing gratitude also helps us to feel more loved, cared for, and spiritually connected. One study concluded that gratitude builds and strengthens our sense of spirituality, which of course, greatly increases our sense of inner well-being.
6. More fulfilling relationships
Feeling thankful for the people around us has proved to not only promote a sense of belonging and connectedness but also increase our relationship happiness. In the words of one study: “Gratitude may help clients to savor the benefits that they receive from others, thereby extending the emotional benefits that people receive from their positive social interactions with others.” This finding has amazing implications … it means that by simply finding something to be thankful for, we can overcome issues such as anger and resentment in our social relationships and feel happier around others.
7. Long-term happiness
Researchers have found that being grateful actually increases your happiness and well-being for the long term. When regularly practicing gratitude through journaling, participants in the study experienced an increase of 2% in happiness the first week, 5% after the first month, and 9% after six months – and this was only through practicing gratitude journaling ONCE a week! Imagine how much of an increase in happiness you would experience by journaling daily? (More on this below.)
How to Practice Being Grateful
So with all of these scientifically proven benefits of being grateful, how do we show more of this trait?
Here are some ideas:
- Wake up and find one thing to be thankful for.
- Keep a gratitude journal in which you list ten things that you’re thankful for each day. Ruminate on these blessings and be sincerely thankful that you have them. For example, you might list the following things: My health, my family, my partner, my job, my financial security, my beautiful dog, the weather outside, my good mood, the fresh breeze, my ability to appreciate life. Learn more about how to journal.
- If you’re not able to journal every day (it literally takes about 5-10 minutes, that’s it), practice some mindfulness exercises. Look around you and notice all of the small, even seemingly insignificant things you usually take for granted. Be thankful that they exist and that you can enjoy them in the present moment.
- If you’re spiritual, religious or even just open-minded, you might like to say a prayer of gratitude. Honestly, I used to hate praying because I associated it with the dry and empty prayers of religion. But after I got over that bias, I discovered that prayer is a powerful way to experience gratitude. I always say my prayers from the heart, not from memory. Pray to whatever you believe in, whether that be God, Consciousness, Spirit, or even your own Soul.
- Meditate on something or someone you love. Feel your heart expand and lighten as you say an inner “thank you.”
As you can see, there are a large number of scientifically proven benefits of being grateful. And what a relief! Complaining and pining for what you don’t have is so time and energy consuming.
Even if you have a pessimistic personality or find your life is crazy at the moment, you still have the opportunity to cultivate gratitude. You don’t have to turn into a cheesy optimist either. Like any habit, gratitude requires persistence and patience: it’s like a muscle you have to work out. Initially, you will feel a lot of resistance, but after practice, you will find yourself becoming more and more joyous and appreciative of life.
I can’t express how much gratitude has helped me to find inner peace and fulfillment in my life, despite the external circumstances.
I hope this information and accompanying tips can help you to experience the same lightness of being too.