I attended a friend’s birthday celebration a few weeks back, and it was fun, yet I had to leave early on a Friday night because I had to go to work at the 9-5 the next day to do a full day of overtime. My friends’ faces were washed with sympathy over having to wake up early do a full day of overtime on a Saturday.
But, I was not bothered much about the situation. If I am being honest, I felt almost indifferent and a part of me looked forward to it.
This wasn’t always the case in the past, and it may not always be the case in the future. But, the difference this time is that I reminded myself of how privileged I am to be in this situation. There are many people all over the world who would love the chance of being employed. I need to remember that, when I am sulking about insignificant work-related issues. After all, through my employment, I am able to meet the basic needs of my little family.
Ask yourself this, what else is truly important?
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. Ralph Waldo Emerson
What Psychology Says About Gratitude
The study of the mind – psychology is documented to have begun as early as 4th century BC. However, most studies of the mind and behavior focused on disorders, mental illnesses, trauma, and the effects of stress. It wasn’t until Martin Seligman and his colleagues came along that the field of “Positive Psychology“ was born. This new field of research explored emotions such as gratitude, optimism, forgiveness, happiness, compassion, and altruism.
They’ve learned that cultivating positive mental attributes is a great way to mitigate the challenges of adversity and emotional turmoil and leads to greater happiness and resilience. Of all the mental attributes one can develop, gratitude is most strongly associated with mental health.
Okay, so what exactly is gratitude? Gratitude is an emotion that relates to your ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Historically speaking, the study of gratitude has been relegated to the fields of theology and philosophy (i.e. stoicism). In 2007, Robert Emmons began studying gratitude through a psychological perspective and found that expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational health. What’s more, being grateful also impacts the overall experience of happiness, and these effects tend to be long term.
What are the Benefits of Gratitude?
- Improved Emotional, Social, & Physical Health
- Higher Levels of Optimism
- Higher Levels of Happiness
- Higher Levels of Connection in Times of Loss or Crises
- Higher Self Esteem
- Higher Levels of Energy
- Higher Emotional Intelligence
- Higher Academic Intelligence
- Higher Capacity for Forgiveness
- Higher Desire for Self Care
- Higher Levels of Altruism
- Lower Levels of Depression, Anxiety, Stress, & Headaches
How to Increase Gratitude in your Life & Be More Grateful
The most accessible way to increase gratitude in your life is to get your mind to practice observing grateful thoughts. But, to really reap the benefits, you should consider a journal that is dedicated to gratitude. Writing these positive experiences boosts levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy, especially when compared to people who focus exclusively on negative events and thoughts. Life is imperfect and humans are not without fault. Our days rarely go according to plan or without unexpected challenges. Although some of us can naturally appreciate the sweet moments as they happen throughout the day, many of us need to cultivate this sense of appreciation.
So, it appears we should be keeping a “gratitude journal“ and recording experiences for which one is grateful to practice gratitude. The idea is to write about at least three positive experiences on a daily basis. Examples include observing something in nature, an object of beauty, a meaningful conversation with a friend, a good cup of tea, or even helping someone with a problem.
Start your own gratitude journal, or buy a journal specifically made to practice gratitude:
All of the research indicates recording experiences, for which you are grateful for, has positive effects starting after two weeks that can last up to six months. So, it’s simple – keep a gratitude journal.
Start performing gratitude exercises
- Focus on your breathing before your gratitude exercises to be grounded, present, and mindful.
- Before going to bed, think about what you already have that you can lose.
- Express and show gratitude to your partner.
- Say, and mean it, “thank you” to those who perform acts of service to you.
- Keep your gratitude journal next to your bed and list positive experiences from the day every night.
- Reflect on the positive moments of the day.
- Write a “thank you” letter to someone who has made a difference in your life — give it to them in person if possible.
- Express gratitude in solitude or when breaking bread with loved ones.
- When you feel you are about to complain, redirect that thought into a thought of gratitude.
- Write down what you appreciate about yourself.
Start training your brain for positivity and gratitude with gratitude meditations
Another effective way to build mental positivity is by performing “gratitude meditations.” This method helps to train the mind for increased positivity, gratitude, and happiness. Perform this meditation for a few minutes at a time. It’s a great activity to do during quick work breaks. The more you do this the more you create new neural pathways and alter existing ones as we train the brain to develop a more grateful perspective. This exercise taps into the brains ability to be malleable or “neuroplastic.”
Research shows that our thoughts have the power to shape our brains. The more conscious we are about perceiving an experience as being positive the more this perception will generalize to other parts of the brain. Rick Hanson explains that negative experiences are like “Velcro” and tend to stick in our minds, whereas positive experiences are like “Teflon” and more readily slip away. We must actively work to integrate positive experiences into the brain in order for the positive to “stick” and the beneficial effects to endure. The question remains, “How do we do this?”
Here is how you can quickly perform a gratitude meditation in two to five minutes:
How to do a quick Gratitude Meditation when you have no time
- Sit down somewhere comfortable.
- Close your eyes.
- Relax your body.
- Feel grounded in your chair.
- Take a few breaths.
- Further relax the mind and body.
- Ponder the things you are really grateful for.
- Take anything that comes to mind first.
- Build on that initial thought of gratitude.
- Fully develop the story of this positive experience or memory.
- Smile and let the happiness from this experience cover the entirety of your mind and body.
- Use your mind to visualize this memory to make it stronger.
- Obsess over that experience longer to deeply implant positivity into your brain.
I am looking to begin to use these exercises to improve the overall power of my mind. After reading more and more about gratitude and the power of a positive mindset, I think this can be a cornerstone from which to build a framework to live my life with more meaning and with more deliberation. I would like to cultivate a capacity for grace. It is a beautiful character trait that I have admired about my significant other. She is innately graceful, like a long tutored queen.
What are the consequences of ingratitude?
A constant display of ingratitude is commonly the iceberg, beneath the tip, that ruins relationships. When a wife or husband never shows appreciation for their spouse, the relationship loses a vital component of the “honeymoon” phase that everyone loves to be in. When you first start dating someone, you notice all of the niceties they bring to the table and likely express appreciation for many of them. When a boss never expresses gratitude toward his employees for what they do, employees may begin to feel unimportant which will cause them to resent both him and their job.
I think William George Jordan put it best in his essay, “The Courage to Face Ingratitude.” This essay was published in 1902. Is it not interesting that we’ve been unwilling to make any progress in all this time? Mind you, all major religions have attempted to instill this virtue for thousands of years, to no avail. Mr. Jordan offers some powerful insight toward the erosion of civility that ingratitude contributes to.
INGRATITUDE, the most popular sin of humanity, is forgetfulness of the heart. It is the revelation of the emptiness of pretended loyalty. The individual who possesses it finds it the shortest cut to all the other vices.
Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge, which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good…
Gratitude is thankfulness expressed in action. It is the instinctive radiation of justice, giving new life and energy to the individual from whom it emanates. It is the heart’s recognition of kindness that the lips cannot repay. Gratitude never counts its payments. It realizes that no debt of kindness can ever be outlawed, ever be cancelled, ever paid in full. Gratitude ever feels the insignificance of its installments; ingratitude the nothingness of the debt. Gratitude is the flowering of a seed of kindness; ingratitude is the dead inactivity of a seed dropped on a stone.
The expectation of gratitude is human; the rising superior to ingratitude is almost divine. To desire recognition of our acts of kindness and to hunger for appreciation and the simple justice of a return of good for good, is natural. But man never rises to the dignity of true living until he has the courage that dares to face ingratitude calmly, and to pursue his course unchanged when his good works meet with thanklessness or disdain. Man should have only one court of appeals as to his actions, not “what will be the result?” “how will it be received?” but “is it right?” Then he should live his life in harmony with this standard alone, serenely, bravely, loyally and unfalteringly, making “right for right’s sake” both his ideal and his inspiration. Man should not be an automatic gas-machine, cleverly contrived to release a given quantity of illumination under the stimulus of a nickel. He should be like the great sun itself which ever radiates light, warmth, life and power, because it cannot help doing so, because these qualities fill the heart of the sun, and for it to have them means that it must give them constantly. Let the sunlight of our sympathy, tenderness, love, appreciation, influence and kindness ever go out from us as a glow to brighten and hearten others. But do not let us ever spoil it all by going through life constantly collecting receipts, as vouchers, to stick on the file of our self-approval.
It is hard to see those who have sat at our board in the days of our prosperity, flee as from a pestilence when misfortune darkens our doorway; to see the loyalty upon which we would have staked our life, that seemed firm as a rock, crack and splinter like thin glass at the first real test; to know that the fire of friendship at which we could ever warm our hands in our hour of need, has turned to cold, dead, gray ashes, where warmth is but a haunting memory.
To realize that he who once lived in the sanctuary of our affection, in the frank confidence where conversation seemed but our soliloquy, and to whom our aims and aspirations have been thrown open with no Bluebeard chamber of reserve, has been secretly poisoning the waters of our reputation and undermining us by his lies and treachery, is hard indeed. But no matter how the ingratitude stings us, we should just swallow the sob, stifle the tear, smile serenely and bravely, and— seek to forget.
In justice to ourselves we should not permit the ingratitude of a few to make us condemn the whole world. We pay too much tribute to a few human insects when we let their wrong-doing paralyze our faith in humanity. It is a lie of the cynics that says “all men are ungrateful,” a companion lie to “all men have their price.” We must trust humanity if we would get good from humanity. He who thinks all mankind is vile is a pessimist who mistakes his introspection for observation; he looks into his own heart and thinks he sees the world. He is like a cross-eyed man, who never sees what he seems to be looking at. Confidence and credit are the cornerstones of business, as they are of society. Withdraw them from business and the activities and enterprises of the world would stop in an instant, topple and fall into chaos. Withdraw confidence in humanity from the individual, and he becomes but a breathing, selfish egotist, the one good man left, working overtime in nursing his petty grudge against the world because a few whom he has favored have been ungrateful.
If a man receives a counterfeit dollar he does not straightway lose his faith in all money—at least there are no such instances on record in this country. If he has a run of three or four days of dull weather he does not say “the sun ceases to exist, there are surely no bright days to come in the whole calendar of time.” If a man’s breakfast is rendered an unpleasant memory by some item of food that has outlived its usefulness, he does not forswear eating. If a man finds under a tree an apple with a suspicious looking hole on one side, he does not condemn the whole orchard; he simply confines his criticism to that apple. But he who has helped someone who, later, did not pass a good examination on gratitude, says in a voice plaintive with the consciousness of injury, and with a nod of his head that implies the wisdom of Solomon: “I have had my experience, I have learned my lesson. This is the last time I will have faith in any man. I did this for him, and that for him, and now, look at the result!”
Then he unrolls a long schedule of favors, carefully itemized and added up, till it seems the payroll of a great city. He complains of the injustice of one man, yet he is willing to be unjust to the whole world, making it bear the punishment of the wrong of an individual. There is too much vicarious suffering already in this earth of ours without this lilliputian attempt to extend it by syndicating one man’s ingratitude. If one man drinks to excess, it is not absolute justice to send the whole world to jail. The farmer does not expect every seed that he sows in hope and faith to fall on good ground and bring forth its harvest; he is perfectly certain that this will not be so, cannot be. He is counting on the final outcome of many seeds, on the harvest of all, rather than on the harvest of one…The more unselfish, charitable and exalted the life and mission of the individual, the larger will be the number of instances of ingratitude that must be met and vanquished…
We must ever tower high above dependence on human gratitude or we can do nothing really great, nothing truly noble. The expectation of gratitude is the alloy of an otherwise virtuous act. It ever dulls the edge of even our best actions. Most persons look at gratitude as a protective tariff on virtues. The man who is weakened in well-doing by the ingratitude of others, is serving God on a salary basis. He is a hired soldier, not a volunteer. He should be honest enough to see that he is working for a reward; like a child, he is being good for a bonus. He is really regarding his kindness and his other expressions of goodness as moral stock he is willing to hold only so long as they pay dividends. There is in such living always a touch of the pose; it is waiting for the applause of the gallery. We must let the consciousness of doing right, of living up to our ideals, be our reward and stimulus, or life will become to us but a series of failures, sorrows and disappointments…
Let us forget the good deeds we have done by making them seem small in comparison with the greater things we are doing, and the still greater acts we hope to do. This is true generosity, and will develop gratitude in the soul of him who has been helped, unless he is so petrified in selfishness as to make it impossible. But constantly reminding a man of the favors he has received from you almost cancels the debt. The care of the statistics should be his privilege; you are usurping his prerogative when you recall them. Merely because it has been our good fortune to be able to serve someone, we should not act as if we held a mortgage on his immortality, and expect him to swing the censer of adulation forever in our presence…
No good act performed in the world ever dies. Science tells us that no atom of matter can ever be destroyed, that no force once started ever ends; it merely passes through a multiplicity of ever-changing phases. Every good deed done to others is a great force that starts an unending pulsation through time and eternity. We may not know it, we may never hear a word of gratitude or of recognition, but it will all come back to us in some form as naturally, as perfectly, as inevitably, as echo answers to sound. Perhaps not as we expect it, how we expect it, nor where, but sometime, somehow, somewhere, it comes back, as the dove that Noah sent from the Ark returned with its green leaf of revelation. Let us conceive of gratitude in its largest, most beautiful sense, that if we receive any kindness we are debtor, not merely to one man, but to the whole world. As we are each day indebted to thousands for the comforts, joys, consolations, and blessings of life, let us realize that it is only by kindness to all that we can begin to repay the debt to one, begin to make gratitude the atmosphere of all our living and a constant expression in outward acts, rather than in mere thoughts. Let us see the awful cowardice and the injustice of ingratitude, not to take it too seriously in others, not to condemn it too severely, but merely to banish it forever from our own lives, and to make every hour of our living the radiation of the sweetness of gratitude.William George Jordan
What stops people from expressing gratitude?
The ability to express gratitude is inseparable from your degree of humility. When we are being grateful, we are paying attention to the acts of service people execute to our benefit; and, that we fully comprehend how those acts make our life better, easier, and happier. Ungrateful people are callous; they come to think that all the good things that happen to them and all the service rendered to them are merely a cosmic response to their infallible eminence. They feel an entitlement toward the servitude of others. Unfortunately, they are unable to observe the wonderful things that happen to them; they will never experience happiness for what they already have because their sense of entitlement makes them feel they deserve only the best in life, so they exclusively concentrate on the ways in which this ideal is not met.
Grateful people are humble people. They have no illusions of grandeur. They know bad things can happen to good people. They know how easily abundance can take a turn to a drought. They know how much worse off many other people are. They understand the sacrifices others make on their behalf. And they deeply, deeply appreciates those selfless acts of sacrifices.
In short, if you find it difficult to be a grateful person, you may need to concurrently work on your humility.
Being a Grateful Person
Gratitude is not simply something that we externally share with others. It is an attitude that we live with every day. Some of the unhappiest men I’ve met in my life have also been the most ungrateful. They could only see the things that were wrong with their life, choosing to concentrate on the things they wished they had and wished had happened but didn’t. Their whining corrupted their soul. On the flip side, some of the happiest men I’ve know are the ones that truly embraced the virtue of gratitude. Some of them were dirt poor, but they were still so grateful for what little they did have. They focused not on the things they lacked, but on all the things they had going for them.
Some people think if they had more stuff or better luck, then they would magically have more gratitude. But the number of your material possessions or relationships will have no effect on your attitude. Once you got those things, you’d simply start thinking about new things you wanted. Gratitude is an attitude that can be cultivated in whatsoever circumstances you find yourself in. It’s not about good things happening to you, it’s about finding new layers of wonderfulness in the things that you have right now.
Note to self: I must continue to focus on what is abundant in lieu of what is lacking. Since my brain will always find something that is lacking.
For, as long we live we ought to keep learning how to live.