Shift Happens: Gratitude
By Angela Cook
Gratitude is such an abstract thing to try to nail down, yet it’s so worth getting out the hammer and nails and giving it the ol’ college try. With Thanksgiving upon us, we are reminded that reflection on one’s blessings is an important practice and helps to keep everything in perspective – especially in the daily tick-tock of our busy lives. I encourage you to read about how shifting to an “attitude of gratitude” on a regular basis – not just one day a year – can lead to a much healthier and happier you.
The dictionary (Merriam-Webster) definition of gratitude is “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” Like other positive emotions, our more-spiritual selves like to think of gratitude as coming from the heart. The feelings and effects of gratitude, though, are evident in several parts of the brain. We may find ourselves experiencing feelings of gratitude as a reaction to a favorable outcome or in reciprocation to someone for a kind act or gesture, such as someone opening a door for us. We also often feel gratitude when we have managed to avoid or survive something tragic.
But imagine finding the will to be grateful when things do not go your way – now that’s a task!
The most challenging, yet potentially life-changing, opportunities for gratitude can be found in those situations that do not naturally spark feelings of gratefulness within. It is hard to feel grateful about losing your job or finding out that you are not going to get the new home you wanted. However, if we can learn to find the possible good in those situations, gratitude may come to follow. For example, if you are able to realize that you were very unhappy at the job you no longer have, and that you now are free to find something that you truly love, this may help you to feel gratitude. If you can trust that the house you didn’t get was perhaps meant for someone else and that you now have the opportunity to find something that may be an even better fit for your family, you may be more likely to appreciate the experience. This is not always easy to do, but it is a game-changer in cultivating that “attitude of gratitude” and, therefore, a happier life. Some even claim that gratitude can be a powerful antidote to worry!
Additionally, a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful can be argued. We do not always have complete control over our feelings but we can choose to be grateful as a personal choice. It stands to reason that, if a person could train themselves to switch from having those occasional, circumstantial feelings of gratitude to living in an “attitude of gratitude,” the rewards – even physical ones – would be even greater.
In his blog, UCLA researcher Alex Korb, Ph.D., talks about “The Neuroscience of Giving Thanks.” He cites several research studies that have shown links between gratitude and better sleep, decreased depression levels, increased energy and exercise, a lower number of body aches and pains, as well more positive thinking, optimism, enthusiasm, and will-power among individuals. So it appears that gratitude has a great deal to offer us with regards to enriching our overall health and state of mind.
In addition to shifting one’s perspective to nurture an attitude of gratitude, there are tools that can be used to cultivate gratitude. One that’s quite popular is a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes each day to look at all the things in your day, or in your life in general, for which you are grateful and write about them. It’s that simple. You can also sign up for daily email reminders, such as Grateful160.com, which ask you to simply reply with what you’re grateful for at the moment.
If you don’t wish to write, then perhaps taking some daily quiet meditation or prayer time to think about the good things in life and how glad you are to have them may just do the trick.
Looking at life through a positive lens may just be a self-fulfilling prophecy, too, leading to more positive thinking and feeling. Some might call this the law of manifestation or Law of Attraction while others may simply give all the credit to conditioning the brain. If you teach yourself to think positively, then you will find yourself doing so more naturally and with less effort as time goes by. Thinking positively leads to feeling positively, which, in turn, often results in acting more positively.
If we take time to look at the world and those of us living in it, we can see that gratitude is flying around in so many directions and gracing our collective experience with its goodness.
So, the next time that pile of dirty dishes makes you want to grumble, try to shift your perspective and be grateful for the food that was on them. Or if you’re stuck in traffic, be thankful for the few extra minutes of (hopefully) quiet time alone.