GRATITUDE (noun): “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
No matter what definition the internet spits back at you, the meaning of gratitude is different to everyone. Simply put, gratitude is a compassionate act or thought in order to gain an appreciation for yourself and the world around you.
Much of our life we are working towards things we do not have. Often, we fail to stop and look around at what we do have. Humans are wired for survival and success. A constant craving for change and progression causes us to feel uncomfortable when stagnant. We are always looking for “what’s next.” We say things like “I will be happy when I pay off my loans,” and “I will be happy when I finally land my dream job.” Fill in the blank with whatever excuse you are currently conjuring up in your mind – I know I have plenty.
It is easy to get lost in our individual world and forget the rest. Our perspective can become skewed and narrowed. We start to focus on our deficits, lose touch with our community, and it becomes quite overwhelming. We begin to feel that our pain, loss, and failures are heavy burdens that we individually carry on our shoulders. Due to this formidable sense of isolation, we feel disconnected and forget that all humans share the same emotions.
The beautiful aspect of practicing gratitude is that not only will others around you benefit, but you will too. If you invest in yourself, you can make your world a glorious and abundant place. There are many scientific studies being conducted showing that practicing gratitude can positively impact mental health in many ways.
Here is how you can benefit:
- Improve mental strength and resiliency.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that heightened levels of gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Individuals who practiced thoughts of thankfulness in times of crisis made larger leaps in their healing.
- Your brain will rewire to desire more gratitude.
UC Berkeley conducted a pay-it-forward study in which brain imaging revealed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex in those who gave charitable contributions as an act of gratitude (Wong & Brown, 2017). The medial prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain associated with learning and decision making. This neural rewiring creates a “gratitude circuit” which prompts individuals to be more aware of positive events and want them to happen again.
- Improve self-esteem, self-worth, and sense of connectedness.
A 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology found that grateful individuals have stronger social bonds and more optimistic views on their social environment. This study showed that focusing on others’ benevolence for themselves, curated a sense of being cared for and cultivated a higher sense of self-worth and belongingness.
To me, gratitude means shifting my focus from what I believe I am missing in my life to appreciating the world and people around me. Yes, gratitude is just a big perspective shift. Here is how to shift your perspective:
Shut down negative thoughts when they arise and insert a positive rendition. For example:
Negative thought – “I hate when my thighs jiggle when I walk, and they are bigger than they were ten years ago.”
Gratitude shift – “I am thankful that I have these two legs with intricately designed muscles, nerves, and vessels that allow me to walk this earth. It is amazing how the human body changes and grows with time – time that I have been fortunate to have.”
Appreciating your surroundings in a novel way.
Write a letter to someone and express your appreciation for them. Write 3 things you are grateful for each day. Hold the door for someone. Give someone a compliment. While carrying on normal activities, literally stop and smell the roses. If you can’t find roses, paint them, or imagine them – create roses in your life. Stop and think about how amazing and diverse our Mother Earth is. You will begin to see things you never even knew existed.
It is possible for all of us to cultivate gratitude into our lives. We all possess the innate human drive to be connected. Simply focus on what you have been blessed with and forget about what you think you deserve. Truly, the secret to having it all is realizing that you already do. Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the easiest and cheapest ways you can create abundance in your life. When you focus on the good, the good simply just keeps getting better. Now go be grateful and fall in love with the life you already have.