Gratitude, thankfulness or appreciation can be misguided. Often it is superficially applied. Only expressing it when receiving something, or being thankful out of fear, and the worst is when you express it whole-heartedly one day and the next it’s gone.
Consider all the miracles and mysteries of life: how the air we breathe is produced by trees, how our DNA is only 1.3% different from the Bonobo ape, that we evolved from organisms of ancient oceans, that a mother’s heartbeat can synchronize with her child’s heart only a few feet away, or that gravity has the ability to slow and speed up time. None of these are things that occur because it “owes” us anything; it simply just is and life is something to be grateful of.
In the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Robert A. Emmons & Robin Stern (2013) describes the purpose of gratitude:
“Its ultimate goal is to reflect back the goodness that one has received by creatively seeking opportunities for giving… [with a] grateful appreciation that one has lived by the grace of [life]… it is knowing the grace by which one lives that is itself a profound spiritual realization” (pg.847). When described in this way, it doesn’t seem difficult to express gratefulness… what is not mentioned that is imperative to the goal is to be able to appreciate everything; the good and the bad.
How to be Grateful & the Benefits:
We are always comparing our current state to past experiences and future expectations – we are taught to welcome consistency, but seldom are we grateful for spontaneity or change and the blessings they may bring. Consistency and spontaneity have their positive and negatives: one can bring security, while the other brings highlights to life; one can kill us slowly by mundane pattern, while the other can strike one blow so painful that nothing can be revived. Often, we are so focused on the disruption change creates we cannot imagine seeing anything to be thankful for. However, that is where the lesson of gratitude lies – as Emmons & Stern put it:
“Losing some aspects of one’s life may lead the person to increase the value they see in other aspects of life” (p.848).
Gratitude requires you to consciously pay attention to your current negative situation and to see the contributions that have been made (by the situation, yourself, or others) and then expressing it verbally, behaviourally and psychologically. A way to turn this new thought process into a habit is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, you take a moment to reflect on what you are deeply and truly grateful for, and write it down.
Below are some comments of its benefits by clients suffering mild depression mentioned in Emmons & Stern’s research:
- It keeps me in touch with reality out there rather than my constant negative interpretations. I remember that others are there and can be supportive.
- Helps me get out of the negative and remember that not all is lost.
- I am reminded that there is more to feel good about than to feel bad about.
- I stop taking the good in my life for granted and get out of my shell.
- I actually FEEL better when I am thinking about all the gifts I have in my life.
- Being grateful takes a conscious act of will. It is hard but really worth it.
- Writing about good things rather than bad things in my life makes me feel lighter inside.
- Gratitude keeps me going in the tough times. (2013, p.853)
Along with these wonderful realizations, physical benefits include longer sleep, improved sleep quality, and increase in physical stamina! So why not give it a try?
Get Out of Your Own Way
I once thought a gratitude journal was trivial, and that I didn’t need to list the things that I was thankful for. But I gave it a shot anyway. At first it WAS trivial: “I am thankful for my dad. I am thankful for my mom. I am thankful for my sister,” etc. But as I kept writing I started to realize it was ME who was being trivial, I was unable to really let my inner self speak of the things I was really grateful for! I was just getting in the way of myself.
As the pen continued to hit the paper I wrote the one thing that made me realize what this was all about:
“I am just thankful that I even came across and learned Shamballa Reiki and Crystal Healing and that I even get to use it to help people.”
I realized that it provided me the answer to the struggle at the time, “I want to help people, but what is my purpose?” I was neglecting to recognize it was right in front of me the whole time.
By learning to be grateful, my life began to change for the better… So give it a try – even if things are going well! Your life may just get even better!