“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
To be grateful is to acknowledge the goodness in our lives. Psychologists have found that when one practices expressing gratitude, over time there is a general increase in their subjective well-being. According to the research paper, Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs, ‘Results showed that forgiveness and gratitude were both positively and strongly associated with well-being and largely, though not completely, mediated by affect and belief. Forgiveness and gratitude may have an important place in the positive psychologist’s repertoire of well-being enhancing techniques and exercises in general, and may be particularly powerful with a clinical psychotherapy population.’ Gratitude also promotes positive psychological and physical health. It has been found that practicing gratitude reduces the power of negative emotions and self-talk, as it tends to shift one’s focus away from the negativity - emotions like resentment and jealousy, for example - and towards a more positive state of mind. Resentment and jealousy are toxic to your well-being, but through practicing gratitude these emotions can be defused and no longer hold power over the mind.
How is Gratitude Cultivated?
It’s normal to be filled with wants and desires on a day to day basis given the materialistic culture we live in, but material things are not a solid foundation for happiness. Instead, happiness can be found through gratitude. Some of the following approaches have been considered to increase the amount of gratitude in our lives.
- Write a gratitude journal. Keep a journal of all the things, big and small, that bring you joy and happiness. Doing so will encourage your mind to focus more on these things instead of ruminating on the negatives.
- Choose three specific things that have gone well for you lately, and identify the factors that played a role.
- Think about the people in your life who have inspired or helped you in any way. They may be family members, friends, religious figures, teachers, a colleague, anybody!
- Meditation is another method through which we can cultivate greater levels of gratitude in our lives. A recent study looking at the effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling, found that during a gratitude meditation ‘resting-state FC of the amygdala with the right dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex were positively correlated with anxiety scale and depression scale, respectively.’ The full results of the study indicated that gratitude meditation could be a way to improve both an individual’s emotional regulation as well as their self-motivation.
Whatever we focus on, we gravitate towards, so when we focus on negativity, we are going to notice it more. If you believe and always accept negative emotions as permanent, that’s how they will seem. In the same way, when we focus on positivity, we are going to notice more positivity. You may notice when you observe positive minded people that they can almost always find the silver lining in bad situations, or at least accept that negative emotions are temporary and are able to move on, knowing that something good will come along soon.
Cultivating gratitude in your life can inject positivity into everything you do on a daily basis. Gratitude is a way of seeing things that involves an appreciation of beauty. When you see things from a grateful perspective, you’ll begin to find that you’re living in a life of abundant beauty. This change does not happen overnight, but over time. As mentioned earlier, a great approach to cultivating gratitude and positivity is to write down what you’re grateful for. By writing these things down you solidify them and they become real, as opposed to being loose, abstract thoughts that are prone to being forgotten.
Gratitude is about your relationship to life. Though life is often a struggle and there are many things to worry about, to complain about, and to ruminate on, you have a choice in how you relate to it. Gratitude is a response to life. American psychologist and buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach says that gratitude arises when we are in a loving relationship with life. A relationship in which we are present, open, and receptive, as life itself inherently is.
One powerful change that gratitude can have on your life is that it dissolves fear. Fear is a strong emotion, however it’s quite difficult to be fearful and grateful at the same time. Fear often clouds our minds when we dwell on things that are out of our control. It takes away our mental autonomy by steering the mind towards imagining worst case scenarios and anticipation of victimhood. But fear can be overcome by practicing gratitude for all that we have in our lives.
Suffice to say, gratitude and the practice of being grateful can be extremely beneficial to our lives in many different ways. From physical to emotional and psychological benefits, the studies all indicate that incorporating gratitude into our daily routine - whether through writing a journal, meditating or simply thinking about all that we are grateful for - we will be able to boost our sense of happiness and wellbeing.
- ↑ Watkins, Philip & Woodward, Kathrane & Stone, Tamara & Kolts, Russell. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal. 31. 431-451. 10.2224/sbp.2003.31.5.431.
- ↑ Toussaint, L., Friedman, P. Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Affect and Beliefs. J Happiness Stud 10, 635 (2009) doi:10.1007/s10902-008-9111-8
- ↑ Hill, Patrick L et al. “Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood.” Personality and individual differences vol. 54,1 (2013): 92-96. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.08.011
- ↑ Kyeong, Sunghyon et al. “Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling.” Scientific reports vol. 7,1 5058. 11 Jul. 2017, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9
- ↑ "Gratitude Archives - Tara Brach". Tara Brach, 2019, https://www.tarabrach.com/category/gratitude/. Accessed 12 Jan 2020.
- ↑ "7 Crucial Reasons Why Gratitude Can Change Your Life - Wanderlust Worker". Wanderlust Worker, https://www.wanderlustworker.com/7-crucial-reasons-why-gratitude-can-change-your-life/. Accessed 12 Jan 2020.
- Q&A with Paula Shields from Asia’s first gender responsive trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.
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