Gratitude: What it is and Why it Matters

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

Do you make a daily habit of gratitude? Expressing and recognizing what you’re grateful for is something you should be doing more often than just during the Thanksgiving season; the happiest people make gratitude a daily habit and something they practice over and over again. True gratitude isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. Read on for a guide to being grateful: what it is and why it matters.

Being grateful makes you happy!

Being grateful makes you happy!

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is about more than just saying grace before dinner out of habit or saying thank you to your spouse for helping clean up; while those are wonderful things to do, true gratitude is much deeper. As Angeles Arrien shared with Gratefulness.org:

“Of all the universal themes that have been transmitted through perennial wisdom, the expression of gratitude continues to be the glue that consistently holds society and relationships together; its opposite – ingratitude – contributes to societal dissolution and separation…Gratitude’s stabilizing and healing effects, which have been researched from multiple standpoints—cultural, psychological, physical, spiritual, even financial—have made it abundantly clear that the benefits of living a grateful life are irrefutable.”

Saying, “Thank you” is something that all cultures around the world do; teaching children about being grateful is a key life lesson. It seems that gratitude is something deeply rooted in human nature, and it’s something that we not only cannot live without, but we need to master in order to be truly happy.

Why Complaining Isn’t Healthy

Let’s be honest, most of us complain every now and then, and often we feel like it helps us to vent out negative emotions and get grievances off of our backs. While complaining seems to bring us together and helps us commiserate with our friends’ negative experiences, in the long run it can actually be harmful for your health. This is because, believe it or not, complaining has the power to re-wire your brain!

As author Steven Parton explains to Inc., “Synapses that fire together wire together. Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross…. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.”

If you think that’s a scary thought, consider thinking about three positive things instead of focusing on one negative occurrence; that’s because it can take at least this many thoughts to distract you from the original negative thought.

3 Tips for Practicing Gratitude

  1. Start with Self-Love

“It is impossible to love yourself unconditionally without a deep sense of gratitude.” – Exuberant Women Don’t Age – No Time To Waste

Have you heard the old saying that you can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself? I believe that there’s a lot of truth to this; if you aren’t truly happy with who you are, it’s hard to be happy with the situation at hand. Gratitude and self-love rely upon each other; by focusing on one, you aid in the other. To love yourself more, try:

  • Banishing Self-Loathing: As I explain in my recent book, Exuberant Women Don’t Age – No Time To Waste, “Loving yourself is embracing all that you have been, all that you will be and all that you are now.”
    Self love and gratitude go hand in hand.

    Self love and gratitude go hand in hand.

It’s easy to get caught up in self-loathing when you are constantly viewing the triumphs of others on social media; this has been referred to as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Remember that sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can distort the truth and often serve as a vehicle for self-embellishment rather than true meaningful connections.

Keep this in mind each time you scroll through others’ newsfeeds and try to stop comparing yourself; your accomplishments are just as successful, your pets are just as cute and your children are just as smart; self-loathing has no place in a loving and successful life.

  • Focusing on What You Need: I don’t mean to say that you should be selfish or put your needs ahead of everyone else’s around you. According to experts, when you focus your energy on things you are grateful for, you begin to see more of those items manifest in your life. Paying attentionto what makes you happy and thanking yourself for these opportunities can help you achieve a deeper understanding of self-love.
  1. Make Good Habits

According to Jack Canfield, “Appreciation is one of the highest emotional states you can experience. When you cultivate gratitude, you’re able to feel true joy and contentment, no matter what you have or don’t have in your life.” One way to achieve this is by cultivating good, healthy habits. Here are Canfield’s six habits to master:

  1. Each morning, write down everything you appreciate. This habit only takes about seven minutes! By beginning each morning on a positive note, you will find it easier to remain happy and in high spirits throughout the rest of the day, no matter what obstacles life hurdles at you.
  2. Appreciate at least three people every day. This can come in the form of thanking your mail delivery driver, the supermarket cashier or your co-worker for lending a helping hand. By making a conscious effort to appreciate the actions of others, you’ll find it easier to be content with your life and feel happier.
  3. Make it a game. If you find it hard to remember to be grateful, try setting a time each day to remind yourself; use an alarm or digital reminder to signal the beginning of “The Appreciation Game.” A good time to do this is on your morning commute. As you pass them by, thank your fellow drivers for driving safely, the corner coffee shop for keeping its patrons caffeinated, or the rain for watering the plants, flowers and trees.
  4. Carry a reminder. Sometimes a physical token can serve as a great reminder to practice gratitude; good options are a special rock, button or coin. As you carry it around your day, stop and take some time to be grateful for what’s around you. Maybe the bank had a shorter line than usual or you were lucky enough to catch all of the green lights on your way home.
  5. Remember you are lucky. When we’re living in a world filled with sports cars, designer clothing and a Starbuck’s on every street corner, it’s hard to remember that much of the world is lacking these comforts. As Canfield explains, “If you eat three meals a day, you are far better off than the 1 billion people on the planet who eat once a day at most.”
    Take time to appreciate small blessings.

    Take time to appreciate small blessings.

    Remember this every time you eat a granola bar on the go, snack on chips at your desk or prepare a home-cooked dinner with your family. Appreciate life’s smallest blessings and you will live a lifetime of happiness and joy.

  6. Always love yourself. When we get embarrassed, self-conscious or self-deprecating, we are sabotaging our own happiness. Despite making mistakes, you should always love yourself as much as you can. You are your own best cheerleader, the one who knows your desires, hopes, dreams and successes more than anyone else.
  7. Learn to Forgive

Sometimes holding a grudge or seeking revenge for a wrongdoing can be a barrier to feeling true gratitude. I have experienced pain and suffering at the hands of others, and forgiving them has been a lifelong process. The most powerful lesson I’ve learned is that in order to forgive, I did not have to forget the harm they had caused me, nor involve these individuals in my life.

Wonderfully, the gift of total forgiveness has the ability to release me from all emotional suffering and pain. I have come to understand that our continual effort to forgive is the dynamic that powerfully liberates us, so that we might live in a state of self-love and forgiveness. Learn more about my journey to forgiveness here.

As Angeles Arrien explains, “When people in great numbers choose to practice, integrate and embody gratitude, the cumulative force that is generated can help create the kind of world we all hope for and desire, for ourselves and for future generations.” This is a powerful force; I truly believe that practicing daily gratitude is one of the best ways to find true, meaningful and lasting happiness.

For more advice, inspiration and motivation to be the best person you can be, read additional articles on my blog or pick up a copy of my book, Exuberant Women Don’t Age – No Time To Waste. Also, I’ll soon be sharing more advice for practicing gratitude and applying these ideas to your daily life. In the meantime, check out these additional topics:

Finding Happiness: The Complete Guide

Achieving Happiness: 4 Tips for Clearing Your Mind

Unleash Your Creative Mind

Practical, Scientifically-Backed Happiness Hacks

 

 

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