Gratitude, simple as this nine letter word is a very powerful yet less understood and less applied in our society today. “How can you be grateful when everything is going wrong?” someone may ask! Well, this kind of question cannot be answered in a single statement, so, I am going to use this article to actually go into nitty-gritty of gratitude and obviously also look into how to cultivate the art of gratitude.
What is gratitude?
According to the Harvard Medical School, gratitude is;
“A thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals, whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”
In my own words, I would say, gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. It’s recognizing the good in any area of life or in any situation and saying ‘Thank you’.
Gratitude may not possibly be defined in just a few words even though the definitions above throw a great light on the subject. In the world today, there seems to be so much to be angry about which certainly makes most of us change our focus from the good that almost covers the entire space in the universe. There is a line from the Bible in the book of Psalms that says “…the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” which is so powerful, but also tells us there is a whole lot of reasons for everyone to be grateful about. The good news is, nobody was born ‘grateful’, it’s something that we can all learn and reap the enormous benefits that come from its application.
Gratitude is an art because you can design your own liking, in other words, you choose what to be grateful for. We all have different reasons to be grateful which purely makes it an art (the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination). Just like an art piece, we can all paint it in different ways and still have beautiful results. Andy Warhol said “Art is what you can get away with”
Why we are often ungrateful
The primary reason for ungratefulness is unconscious living which I can also term as deep unconsciousness. When you are unconsciously living, you are almost not living at all. Life just seems to happen without you taking part in the present moment. One of the ways to cultivate the art of gratitude as I have mentioned later in this post is to wake up and live, in other words, becoming conscious and aware of the now. When you are unconscious, your mind is leading the way and you are following day after day. Is there a problem with your mind leading? Yes ofcourse! This may not be quite easy to understand in a single article like this one, however, I will try to throw some more light on it. The mind basically feeds on the information it has digested in the past which is why if you notice, your mind could be speaking to you all day and never stopping. It interprets daily occurrences basing on the past data it has consumed or even how that particular situation affected you in the past. For example; when you meet someone who insults you; your mind might quickly tell you “This person is called an idiot”, because that’s how it has been trained to define such groups of people. This and many other suggestions are what the mind will do all day, which I assume is the reason why the Buddhists call them ‘monkey minds’ because they jump from one thought to another unless you shut off that king of flow as often as you can as the day rolls by.
Living in the past and living in the future
This is one of the greatest problems humanity suffers and all of it is activity of the mind as we have seen above. Your mind could keep you dwelling on the thoughts of what happened in the past, regrets, loses and all other unhelpful sorts. Likewise, it can keep you always looking forward to the future, hoping for that day when you get this thing or that car, so that you can finally become happy. If you notice, when you finally acquire those things you hope for, your mind will now tell you, if you acquire something else, then you will be even better. This kind of conversation can go on for the rest of life if you don’t call it to a stop.
Living in the now; the starting point for gratitude
The best way to ‘become alive’ or conscious is to live in the Now. This can be done by calling yourself to attention as many times in the day as you can, taking time to notice your body, your presence and everything else around you. This is one sure way to start noticing the enormous things to be grateful for each and every day and once you start being grateful, it will kind of produce an effect that will keep you being grateful for almost everything (similar to what you can call a habit). You will finally come to a point where you see something good in everything.
The science behind gratitude
The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by making a conscious effort to live in the now and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, show more compassion and kindness and at the same time have stronger immune systems. Gratitude doesn’t have to be reserved for massive moments when you receive that promotion at work; rather, it can be done in even the seemingly small day to day moments and occurrences. If you ever notice, anything can seem small when you have it provided for that particular day. However, the day we miss it, suddenly we realize how important it is!
Neuroplasticity reveals that the brain has the ability to be bendable and change as new information comes in. In other words, when you learn new stuff, the old stuff fades away. It’s the muscle building part of the brain and can be strengthened with introduction of new information. Your brain is like plastic and is always changing throughout your life. This actually means that you can teach your brain to look on the brighter side of things and to always be grateful. We can learn new ways to think and feel and practice healthy habits with time and practice. The more we practice these new ways of thinking the better some of our good, new positive strategies will work and the happier we will feel.
Why is gratitude important?
Gratitude makes people like us.
Makes us healthier.
Gratitude creates even more gratitude
Strengthens our emotions
Makes us more optimistic
Gratitude increases self-esteem.
Improves your sleep
Gratitude keeps you away from the doctor.
Gratitude makes us feel good.
Gratitude helps your marriage.
Gratitude deepens friendships.
How to cultivate the art of gratitude
- Count your blessings;
Pick a time every day to remember 3 things that you can be grateful for
- Write a letter, say Thank you to someone
- Practice living in the now
- Talk about what you are grateful for
- Keep a gratitude journal