By Deborah Perdue
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is an expression of thankfulness or appreciation for what a person has. It involves noticing small things in
your life that give you pleasure and acknowledging everything you receive. Being grateful means being aware of how
much you have been given and living your life as if it was a miracle. Thankfulness changes your focus from what is
lacking in your life to the many things that you have. Dr. Emmons, a psychologist who has been studying the art of
thankfulness for more than a decade says that being grateful does not mean you have everything you want. It simply
means that you are aware of what you have been given and you appreciate it.
How to practice gratitude
Thankfulness is not just an emotion that comes along; it is a character that is cultivated. You can think of it as a
something you have to practice until you master it just like yoga, sports or meditation. The practice of being
grateful begins when you start paying attention to all the things you already have that you take for granted. Simple
pleasures such a family house, being married and the ability to hear and enjoy music suddenly takes on a new
meaning. Unlike what most people think, being grateful is not a virtue you only practice when all things all working
well. Gratitude also involves acknowledging the painful and difficult moments and the lessons you learn from
such adversities. Directing your attention towards gratefulness blocks your feelings of victimized even when you
are in the midst of a bad situation.
Writing a gratitude journal or letter is another way to cultivate a state of thankfulness. Writing assists you to
organize your thoughts or experiences and put them into a context. Gratitude writing brings a new and redemptive
frame of reference to assist you cope with adversity. Writing about the things you are grateful about also helps
you create meaning to daily experiences. When you write, you expand and magnify on the sources of goodness in
your life as well as consider the valuable lessons you have learnt from your experiences.
Expressing gratitude is an important aspect of practicing thankfulness. There are many people in your life that
have assisted you in one way or the other. If you have never thanked them, it is time you considered doing so. You
can send them a letter to let them know that their actions meant a lot to you even if they did it along time ago.
Writing a letter may be a simple act and quite cheap, but it sends a powerful message to the recipient.
How practicing gratitude enhances your life
So, now you know what gratitude is and how to cultivate it, it is time to focus on how practicing it can improve
your life. While many personality traits and emotions are critical to your general well being, evidence shows that
thankfulness is uniquely important to your life. Grateful people are known to sleep better and have better relationships.
Such people are said to be more creative and are likely to live longer compared to people who are bitter and
grumble about almost everything.
Dr. Emmons and a fellow psychologist, Michael McCullough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas,
conducted a study on gratitude by splitting the participants into 3 groups and giving each of the participants a diary.
The first group was instructed to record any events of the day whether good or bad. The 2nd group was told to record
unpleasant experiences and the last group was instructed to record things for which they were grateful.
The study found that the group that recorded things and events that they were grateful about showed high
levels of alertness, exhibited confidence in achieving their goals and were more willing to help others out compared
to the other two groups.
Practicing the art of giving thanks has been shown to have immense benefits to people’s lives. People who
are grateful tend to be happier, more resilient and have stronger relationships. Thankfulness also reduces stress
and enhances your health. According to Cicero, gratitude is not just the highest of the virtues; it is also the
parent of all the others. Many studies have established a link between increased well being and thankfulness.
The link between happiness, health and gratitude established by these studies has been strengthened by the
positive psychology movement that has embraced the concept and begun incorporating the practice of thankfulness
into their movement.
Gratitude is closely linked to mental health and fulfillment. Grateful people are more enthusiastic, have more
joy and are rarely overtaken by destructive emotions such as bitterness, greed and envy. Gratitude has been shown
to reduce the risk of anxiety, substance abuse disorders and depression .This is achieved by enhancing irretrievability
and coding of positive experiences. People who practice gratitude are more capable of controlling their environment,
purpose in life, personal growth and self acceptance. Grateful people tend to be more positive and
proactive in dealing with bad experiences and are likely to seek support, grow from their experiences and spend
more time seeking for ways to deal with problems. Ultimately, thankfulness gives you steadfast believe and hope
that goodness exists even when all seems lost.
Thankfulness is not only good for the mind; it is also great for the body. People who experience gratitude are
able to cope better with stress and enjoy robust physical health including better functioning of the immune system
and quick recovery from illness. Unlike other emotions that are linked to positivity such as happiness and hope,
gratitude is inherently relational. It goes past the person who is experiencing into the social realm. Gratitude has
been shown to be the driving force behind acts of kindness since it is normal for people to respond to gifts with
heartfelt gifts of their own which strengthens bonds with others.
When all is said and done, what is gratitude and how it can enhance your life can be summed up in Meister
Eckhart’s profound statement “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would be enough.”
By Deborah Perdue