I consider myself blessed. I consider myself a grateful soul with a grateful heart. I am not always happy. Like most people, there are a lot of things that I am unhappy about in my life. But, I try not to pay attention to them unless I’m doing something about them.
And, I believe, a huge part of happiness is choosing what to focus on. The truth is that our minds are built to focus on problems – the excess salt, negative comment, and bad news. This is not a bad thing, as it helps us tackle the problems in our lives. But being fixated on the negative leads to unhappiness.
Without intentionally refocusing our minds on the sunny side of things, we might end up thinking our entire world is dark and gloomy, whilst, in fact, the full picture is heartwarmingly bright and colourful with a few patches of grey.
What is true gratitude?
True gratitude is not denying the reality of your life and circumstance nor is it becoming complacent. True gratitude is simply acknowledging the bright side – i.e. appreciating the other hundreds of things that are pleasant in your life.
Gratitude is deeper than thankfulness. Thankfulness is a temporary feeling of appreciation or relief because of a specific event or experience. While gratitude is a more lasting emotion that is rooted in a deep appreciation for the good – people, things, and experiences – in your life.
These people, things, and experiences can be fantastic, mundane, or even negative. Gratitude gives you the ability to relish the present good or endure the present difficulty – by helping you focus on how the present circumstances might bring about lessons or even better times for and in the future.
Grateful people are always thankful.
The qualities of gratitude are:
It is easy to tell people or yourself to be more grateful, but until you understand what exactly gratitude requires, the advice to be grateful may easily be seen as ridiculous, invalidating, or condescending.
To be grateful, you have to possess the following qualities: awareness, appreciation, humility, openness, optimism, and the ability to act.
Gratitude starts with awareness of the good things in your life. This includes both big things, like having a roof over your head and being educated, and small things, like the freshness of the air or compliments from strangers.
The greater your awareness of the blessing around you, the more grateful you can be and feel. For instance, most people seldom realize that having good health, a family, and a peaceful society/stable is a huge blessing.
“‘Enough’ is a feast.” – Buddhist Proverb– Buddhist Proverb
Once you start developing awareness of the good things in your life, the next step is to begin appreciating them. This means taking the time to recognize, admire, and approve of those things.
For example, when you appreciate the fresh air, you can pause and take a deep breath, and when you appreciate your partner, you will stop to admire their beauty and effort.
“We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success.”– Michelle Obama
Humility is the recognition that you have what you have not because you deserve it, but because it simply is. It is the realisation that you don’t own or can keep anything. It is the realization that you are not self-sufficient and that you are dependent on others and on the world around you for your survival and well-being.
For example, you did not do anything in particular to deserve life, technology, and so much more. You just met them. So also, the people who are dead, lack access to electricity and tech do not deserve that. In fact, gratitude requires the realisation that it is not about deservingness. And, the more you realize that, the more grateful you will grow.
“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”– Brené Brown
It is hard to savour the good in your life when your mind is clouded by fears and worries. It takes optimism to see beyond the current circumstances – to believe there is something to gain at the end, even if it is just lessons.
Gratitude enables you to go through tough times without becoming cynical or nihilistic. With gratitude, there is always something to appreciate at the end.
“True forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for the experience.'”– Oprah Winfrey
Gratitude requires you to be open to receiving the good things in your life. Many people punish themselves when they experience setbacks or failure – they beat up themselves, reject help, and sometimes destroy or throw away the good things they have.
The habit of gratitude requires recognizing, appreciating, and being open to accepting and experiencing the good things in life. Grateful people don’t reject help, or compliments, or run away from good things. They allow themselves to be loved, protected, provided for and cared for. They savour the good in their lives.
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”– John F. Kennedy
Gratitude is not just about appreciating life, being optimistic, and feeling good. It is also about taking action to express your thankfulness. This can be done in many ways, such as complimenting or writing a thank-you note, protecting and improving good things, or simply being more present and mindful of the good things in your life.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”– John F. Kennedy
Keep in mind that there are different kinds of ways people embody gratitude: It could involve expressing appreciation to others, slowing down to feel good through the senses, thinking about the good things, or acting in a way that is consistent with gratitude.
You can also embody and experience all of these types of gratitude at the same time. For example, you might feel the warmth of the sun when you think about your parents, and you might also express that gratitude to them by gifting them a nice watch.
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What is the power and benefits of gratitude?
Gratitude can have so many positive effects on your life. There is a growing body of research that supports the benefits of gratitude. In one study, people who were randomly asked to express gratitude to someone else for a week reported feeling more happiness and life satisfaction.
The power of gratitude is often described as a “force multiplier.” This means that gratitude can amplify the positive effects of other positive emotions, such as happiness, love, and hope. And, these go on to positively influence your physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.
For example, by practicing gratitude you become less stressed and anxious about the things not going well around you. This in turn improves your mood. And, when you radiate positive energy, it makes others cling closer to you hence strengthening your relationships.
Also, when you are not wallowing over spilt milk, but instead focus on your positive qualities and accomplishments and what you can control, your self-esteem gets uplifted, you sleep better, and can even think of being generous to others who are having it worse than you. In general, gratitude reduces suffering and increases resilience.
And, the benefits of gratitude are not limited to the individual. Gratitude can also have a positive impact on other people in your life, your communities, and even the world as a whole. For example, one study found that people who were grateful for their community were more likely to engage in prosocial activities – like adhering to protocols, or volunteering their time and donating to charity.
Why do I lack gratitude?
The attitude of gratitude is something that not so many people seem to have. You may be one of those people. But, keep in mind that it is not always your fault.
- You may have experienced a lot of trauma or hardship in your life. If you have been through a lot of difficult experiences, you may find yourself unable to shake your fears and worries about what might go wrong next. To you, focusing on the good things in your life (instead of on the bad) may feel like playing Russian roulette.
- You may have a negative self-image. If you do not think and feel highly about yourself, you may believe that you do not deserve good things; hence, you may struggle to open yourself up to them and appreciate them.
- You may have grown up in a culture that frowned at gratitude. Perhaps you grew up in a family or culture – like the Indian, Chinese, or Japanese culture – where it is rude to express appreciation for the things you have. This could be because the culture believes it encourages complacency, is boastful, or is disrespectful to those who have suffered (or are suffering) more (especially if done directly, rather than in a religious sense).
- You may be struggling with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, that makes it difficult to feel grateful.
None of these is particularly easy to overcome, and you may even need professional help – from a Therapist – and time to heal.
It is important to remember that multiple studies have shown that people who express gratitude are happier than people who do not. Apart from helping you focus on the good in your life – which reduces stress and anxiety, and helps you not to be envious of others – the attitude of gratitude can also help you not take things for granted – which encourages you to protect and improve what you have, and also empathise and help those who lack.
No matter where you are in life, a habit and attitude of gratitude can help you. Below is how you can start to cultivate gratitude.
How can I be grateful every day?
The key to being grateful everyday is to focus on the positive aspects of your life daily. This can be difficult, especially when things are tough. However, it is important to remember that there is always something to be grateful for. Even in the midst of difficult times, there are always small blessings to be found.
Here are some ways to cultivate and build gratitude:
Start a gratitude journal:
This is a simple way to track the good things in your life. Every day, write down a few things that you are grateful for. This can help you to become more aware of the positive aspects of your life and to appreciate them more.
If you don’t know where to start, perhaps this list of 60 Big And Small Things To Be Grateful For Every Day [Even When Things Are Tough] can help.
Spend time in nature:
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can increase feelings of gratitude. Go for a walk in the park, hike in the woods, or sit by the ocean.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. When you are mindful, you are more likely to appreciate the good things in your life.
Practice self-awareness by paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. Try to figure out when you are happy and ask yourself why you feel that way. Most times you will discover the blessing in your life that have put you in such a pleasant disposition.
Practice saying thanks:
Tell people what you are grateful for, either verbally or in writing. Don’t just wait for the big things in your life. Take the time to appreciate the small things as well. These small things can add up to make a big difference in your overall happiness.
Practice doing others favours:
Find a friend or family member who needs help and offer them help. They don’t need to ask and it doesn’t have to be something huge. It can be just helping them lift something, or helping them complete a payment. Acts like this help remind you of how much you value them.
Conclusion: Pay more attention to the things that are good
It is possible to be grateful, yet unhappy about some other things in life.
Unhappiness is not a bad thing. It is mostly the reason we do stuff. However, being unhappy about things you can’t do anything about is a formula for misery.
And, when you really think about it, you will find that there is really little worth being unhappy about. If someone has bad manners, you can’t do anything about that. You also can’t do anything about the corrupt cops or inflation. However, you can be unhappy and fix your temper or habit of buying things you don’t need.
But, even more important, you should pay more attention to the things that are good. This could be your health, education, skill, network, and freedom. Ignoring the minor inconveniences while focusing on the good often gives you the power to solve the few truly important problems worth being unhappy about.
So, learn to face the sun and you won’t notice the shadow.
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)