Learning the Art of Gratitude
If simply stated, gratitude is the quality of being able to embrace life and one’s present for what it is. But the question is, why is gratitude considered an art? Why doesn’t it come naturally to everyone? Firstly, the attitude of staying grateful largely depends on one’s genetics, personality and the culture they have raised been in. Following up with the hard yet true fact that not every circumstance in one’s life gets to be worthwhile. Life is a series of glitz and glitches responsible for either making us gloom or glee. But to stay in zen despite circumstances not necessarily favouring one, is definitely an art. Now why learn this art? Why be grateful when one is feeling far from it? A believable answer my friend, of course is supposed to be rendered with the holy waters of Science and Philosophy. So be it.
Mindfulness has a strong correlation with Gratitude. Doing so allows an individual to reside in a state of nonjudgmental conscious awareness. In this state, individuals are able to make deliberate choices about their thoughts and emotions and in doing so, select more optimal experiences for themselves. Being mindful has also shown to directly counteract negative feelings and traits, social comparison, narcissism, cynicism and materialism- the thieves of thankfulness. In fact, studies have suggested, Gratitude to foster benign envy, envy which motivates us to achieve something and mitigate malicious envy, which is a driver for revenge.
Gratitude and self awareness go hand in hand. It allows one to stay in sync with not just their surroundings but with their true self as well. You tend to see yourself without bias and hence become capable of channelising your strengths to deal with any situation in hand. To remember ones strength and cling on to it when all else sinks is the approach one has to have while dealing with trials and tribulations in life.
A recent research study involving nearly 300 adults, mostly college students struggling with depression and anxiety, who were seeking mental health counselling were divided into groups of three where the first group was asked to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity. Findings reported the first group to show significantly better mental health than that compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling. This suggests that practising gratitude by writing or reminding ourselves to be so, can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns.
According to some philosophers, it’s impossible to feel grateful and stressed at the same time. This is a basic principle in psychology called “Reciprocal Inhibition”; we can’t feel two contradicting states at once so when your mind focuses on all you are thankful for, you’re more likely to feel joy. In addition, when you are more grateful, you tend to focus on the present—appreciating right now—and this can reduce a sense of yearning or anxiety about the future. In fact, what you’re grateful for today may be something you hoped for yesterday. In addition, by focusing on all you have, you perceive those elements of your life as growing larger. Hence, gratitude tends to give you a feeling of fullness—that what you have is enough—and this is associated with contentment. Moreover, studies have shown, our brain to release dopamine and serotonin — two hormones that make us feel lighter and happier inside when one frequently expresses gratitude.
Gratitude can be considered a “gateway emotion” of sorts. Philosophers over the years have suggested it’s the greatest virtue because it leads to so many others. For example, appreciation of someone can grow into love, gratitude for what you have can lead to greater satisfaction and loving your work can lead to improved performance.
A study at the University of New South Wales found when people express appreciation, others perceive that they can form a constructive relationship with them, and tend to invest and contribute to connecting. In addition, according to a study by Portland State University, when people received more expressions of gratitude at work, they reported better sleep, fewer headaches, healthier eating and more satisfaction with their jobs.In the best case scenario, gratitude can trigger a feedback loop: Positive feelings lead to more pro social behaviour, which leads to more positive social experiences.
Expressing gratitude can also create the conditions for awe and flow. These experiences are more likely when you’re lifted out of yourself. In fact, neuroscience research highlighted in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt finds experiences of awe and flow are associated with reduction in activity in the parts of the brain which are vigilant and self-focused. Being thankful can liberate you from a preoccupation with yourself and focus you more on the bigger picture—which tends to predict positive experiences.
Even if one is an atheist, one can’t deny the mere fact that we as human are mere mortals destined to live and function for a certain period in this world. Now in our scheduled life span, we experience a plethora of events, some bolstering our spirits while others chiselling us down. With the awareness that we are finite and there’s an infinite source to rely proves to be both humbling and rejuvenating.
The phrase “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” exists for a reason. Our morning mindsets do a lot to influence the rest of our day, so try to start positive.
Start your daily routine by being grateful. You can do this in whatever way works best for you. Perhaps you’re grateful for the gorgeous view outside your bedroom window or excited about a trip you are supposed to plan!
Practising gratitude entails introspection. When done right, you gain the ability to see through a retrospective lens and correct yourself for the future. In short, you become your own mirror.
We are social beings. We make natural connections to others in our community. You can cultivate gratitude by learning from the inspiring story of someone else.
Inspiration may also come from nature or your surroundings. Many artists venture to scenic locations for the inspiration to create. Your gratitude is your creation, seek inspiration for it.
Grateful appreciation comes from within. Don’t let the expectations or desires of others dictate your path for you. Make sure you are living your life and not the script someone else has written out.
If you deny the life you want to live, it will only foster feelings of resentment and disappointment. Think of the significant landmarks in your life: are they part of your story, or someone else’s?
Give back to the world in any manner feasible for you. You don’t necessarily have to wait to become a millionaire for helping others. Do when and while you can. Maybe plant a tree or offer carrying loads off the back of an old man. A little act of kindness makes a huge difference in the long run.
When you wish well for others, the people around can sense your vibe and begin preferring your company over those who even might be materialistically better off than you. In short, vouch for others as if you are vouching for yourself and see how that yeilds to your growth in the long run.
If you think you have got it bad, someone’s got it worse. You don’t always have to look up to people doing better than you in life. Sometimes, observing and learning from the grit of those down the ladder can fuel you to break down boulders paving your path ahead.
Logging your appreciation is a beneficial trick. Making a habit of taking the time to write things down in a gratitude journal helps you mentally connect with the things that inspire gratitude in your life. Plus, you’ll have previous entries to look back over on days when you’re feeling down.