These days I have been reflecting on the power of Gratitude. What is gratitude? Gratitude is more than a feeling of thankfulness in response to receiving a tangible gift or a gesture of kindness. Gratitude is a way of life, a fundamental orientation. It is a conscious choice to focus on life’s blessings rather than on its shortcomings. We recognize sources of goodness as outside of ourselves, coming from others. There is a distinction between a short term feeling, and saying that someone is a grateful person, someone who habitually looks at life with gratitude glasses, with a gratitude focus.
However, gratitude is the fruit of great cultivation. We may not be born with a taste for good music, but it can be acquired. Great art often needs to be researched and studied before a person may fully appreciate it. Similarly, when we cultivate a grateful attitude, we learn to live in a state of grace. Every event in life, both good and bad, becomes an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to expand our capacity to love. How then can we cultivate gratitude? We focus our attention on grateful thinking. We count our blessings every day, keep a gratitude journal, write a gratitude letter to someone who has meant a lot to us. Children can wear gratitude bracelets as they are not abstract thinkers. We can become grateful to our families, our work places, our institutions.
Finally, what are the beneficial effects of the practice of gratitude? Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present, it is a magnification of the present emotion. It magnifies goodness, and therefore blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment or depression that destroy our optimal well being. We can’t be envious and grateful at the same time. The higher the gratitude coefficient, the lower the negative emotions. Grateful people are more alert, more energetic, more enthused, more attentive. They are more stress resilient because of the way they interpret life’s events. Gratitude also strengthens our social ties and self worth because it means that others are looking out for our well being. We feel supported and affirmed by them and we then become more altruistic, more outgoing, more sensitive, more helpful and less lonely and isolated.
When we live in gratitude, compassion becomes the foremost emotion when dealing with others. Gratitude and selfless service go hand in hand. Gratitude has the power to heal, to energize, to change lives. The practice of gratitude also enhances healthy behavior and healthy sleep, and it reduces blood pressure. Research demonstrates that even school children get better grades at school when they practice gratitude over the semester.
Gratitude is not always easy. There are many obstacles to a grateful way of thinking, such as pervasive negativity, complaint, dissatisfaction, a sense of entitlement, focus on deprivation and suffering.
Let us accept all of life as a gift and have a deep abiding sense of thankfulness for it.