Leaning Into Gratitude

One of the lessons many of us learned at a young age was to say please and thank-you. While teaching a child these simple words is meant to help the child learn to be polite in their interactions with others, expressing thanks — gratitude — is a significant attribute for our well being.

Extensive research has been conducted on gratitude. Living with gratitude, expressing gratitude, even keeping a “gratitude journal” all correlate with greater happiness in life.  But gratitude is more than “feel good” stuff.  People who report “an attitude of gratitude” have less frequent visits to doctors, have better health outcomes, and have lower rates of psychological stress.  Gratitude positively impacts relationships with others.  People whose lives are characterized by gratitude are more likely to exercise often and eat in a healthy way.  Gratitude has an amazingly positive effect on every dimension of a person’s life.  (If you’re interested in some of the research, here’s a place to start:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/)

While gratitude seems simple enough, to be grateful in the midst of the varied circumstances in life can be very difficult.  Yes, it’s easy to be happy when sitting at the beach with the water rolling over your feet as you look out at the horizon.  But what about being grateful in the midst of the painful situations in life?  Does gratitude make sense when experiencing the death of a loved one, domestic abuse, or the loss of a job?  Should a person consider being thankful for the horrible things that can happen in life?  Isn’t being thankful for tragedy masochistic?

To live with gratitude doesn’t mean that a person should be thankful for the tragedy in life.  Life is indeed a mix of good and bad events.  Some events are truly horrible.  Gratitude isn’t about being thankful for them.  Such a view is overly simplistic.

Instead, to live with gratitude is to live with a sense of appreciation for being alive, for the opportunity to experience something positive even in the midst of hardship, to be open to the possibility even when options seem dim.

Gratitude is about an outlook for living.  To live with gratitude is founded on the affirmation that life itself is worth living no matter what experiences come our way.  Gratitude leads us to affirm that our lives are something for which we give thanks no matter the circumstances.

To live with gratitude requires intentional cultivation.  Yes, it is a spiritual practice with far-reaching implications for mental and physical health.  The simple practice is to pause even momentarily throughout the day, to step back and gain perspective.  In the momentary pause, one looks and considers what is in that moment for which we can be thankful.  With a momentary awareness of thankfulness, we are able to continue in a spirit of gratitude.

Gratitude is cultivated over time.  But as we learn to be grateful as a habit, it becomes a way of life.  Rooted in gratitude, we have the opportunity to live healthier and more whole lives.

Perhaps it’s a good time to pause and consider:  what is your experience of gratitude in this moment?  What are you thankful for today?  Keeping asking yourself those questions.  In time, you’ll experience greater happiness and well-being.  Indeed, that’s something for which you can be thankful.


Photo by gisele13 on Foter.com / CC BY

© 2018, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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