Appreciation for Gratitude
Have you ever noticed that some individuals are able to maintain a positive outlook on life—no matter how challenging their life may be? They are grateful for what they have in the present moment regardless of the circumstances. How and what we truly think about ourselves, life. and others could be what determines our outlook rather than the objective circumstances of our lives.
In Paradise Lost, Milton wrote “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, and a Hell of Heaven.” What if we could find the positive in life’s most challenging experiences? Could that improve our sense of personal strength, tenacity, and resiliency to live happier, more fulfilling lives? The positive psychology movement has given perspective to the wisdom of Milton’s words. Positive psychology research* has indicated that personal feelings of gratitude strongly influence greater happiness and stronger relationships, as well as create an enhanced mood, feelings of emotional and physical well-being, increased energy and personal satisfaction.
Expressing gratitude is much more than merely saying thank you. Gratitude has different meanings for different individuals. In Latin, the word gratia means grace or gratefulness. Gratitude is grateful appreciation for what one has and holds dear, rather than what one wants or lacks. It is through gratitude that people recognize the goodness in their lives and find joy.
Gratitude is also the great neutralizer of negative thoughts and feelings. Feelings of anger, worry, avarice, or jealousy are difficult to possess for long when someone has attained a feeling of gratitude. An individual can apply the principles of gratitude to their past experiences and relationships. I once met a person who had survived the horrors of a concentration camp during World War II. He simply said to me, looking at his tattooed wrist, “after that, I can do anything.” The positive nature and strength of his belief propelled the individual to develop life-long loving relationships and achieve great happiness and success in his life.
Although some may feel these thoughts seem contrived, cultivating a sense of gratitude can be learned and strengthened over time. As each person’s definition or feeling of gratitude is different, so are the ways to cultivate a sense of gratitude in our daily lives’, such as:
-Write a thank you letter to someone you hold dear and mail it in traditional fashion.
-Email a thank you to a coworker for helping with a project or task.
-Acknowledge the presence and generosity of someone in your life.
-Keep a journal or mental inventory of the things in your life for which you are grateful and review it when you are having a challenging moment.
-“Count your blessings” during your daily meditation or prayer rituals and give thanks.
-Take a moment to focus on what you are thankful for. A sunny day, a favorite candy bar, the laughter of a loved one, or maybe it is as simple as the copier working at the office today or that the power is back on at home.
*Emmons, R.A., et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003). Vol. 84, No. 2 , pp.377-389.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2020). Authentic Happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.