With the pandemic putting a damper on the holiday season, people need to understand gratitude now more than ever. Gratitude can make any situation better, but only if you understand it. Learn how and why to express gratitude.
The biggest mistake you can make is underestimating the power of an attitude of gratitude.
Expressing gratitude is the most potent antidote to the poison of sorrow. Showing deep appreciation for the world around you is often just what is needed to make a bad situation good and a good situation great.
You don’t need an abundance of things to practice gratitude. You don’t need to be living your best life to express gratitude. The truth is that the best time to practice gratitude is when things aren’t going well.
When you learn to look at your situation and say, “Well this could be worse”, it’s only then that you’re really able to count your blessings and be grateful.
If all you’ve ever know are good times and ease, you never really get a chance to be grateful for your good fortune. However, when you stumble or fall, then you can not only be grateful that you didn’t die, but also that you got to run the race in the first place.
What an attitude of gratitude doesn’t do
Expressing gratitude doesn’t heal your wounds, fix your problems, or undo your mistakes. Gratitude doesn’t make people suddenly respect you, like you, or love you.
Expressions of gratitude won’t allow you to violate the laws of the universe to travel back through time to undo transgressions. While feelings of gratitude may help you deal with problems that disrupt your well-being, don’t expect them to alleviate guilt or get people to forgive.
Even the deepest gratitude doesn’t reduce the emotional impact of negative events and feelings in your life. This is not the power or the purpose of gratitude.
The power of gratitude is that it gets you to see the world from an unselfish perspective. The purpose is to nullify the negative emotions we experience when it feels like the world has singled us out for disrespect, torment, and ridicule.
Of course, it’s just our ego talking when we believe the universe is paying special attention to us. It doesn’t care either way and “gratitude practice” helps you realize that.
Sincere gratitude, thankfulness, and a beam of light
Think about all of the terrible things that can happen to you over the course of your life. Everything from being getting sick, to losing money, to even experiencing the death of a loved one. Imagine all of those things as an intense beam of light. Heartfelt gratitude is what protects your eyes from that beam of light.
How does practicing gratitude protect my eyes from this dangerously blinding beam of light?
Don’t think of gratitude as a pair of sunglasses protecting your eyes. Rather, think of gratitude as the neck which turns your head to look away. Even with protection, we don’t risk staring down the problems in our life. After all, they may fall off, break, or be just downright ineffective. To reduce the risk of any of these issues, we simply look away.
This isn’t the same as ignoring our problems.
Keeping with the analogy, ignoring the problem is going inside and never facing the intense beam of light. A deep sense of gratitude allows you to remain an active participant in the world until the intensity of the light decreases, and this crucial.
Gratitude doesn’t give us respite from our problems.
Gratitude doesn’t allow us to take a break until the world starts to take it easy on us.
Gratitude doesn’t let you be a passive observer in the world because being an active participant is kicking your ass.
It just makes it so that you can see that none of this is personal.
Back to the analogy. Now, if your eyes have already been damaged by looking at the beam of light, then looking away from it won’t undo the damage you’ve sustained. Looking away won’t make it heal faster. It won’t even reduce the pain.
But what looking away does is it allows you to focus on the parts of you that are still alright. You’re able to see, even with damaged eyesight, that the rest of your body is ok. Furthermore, it’s just a beam of light. As you look away, you may feel the heat on your neck, but the rest of your body is fine.
You’re able to look around and see that things are, for the most part fine. You are grateful because, in this moment, you realize that things could be worse.
Gratefulness increases your pain tolerance
Pain brings focus.
Often this is a positive, but when you can’t focus on anything else but the accompanying misery, you’re no longer living. You can’t let your pain or your problems cause you to retreat from the world. You have to persist, even when you think the world is unfair or unforgiving.
Gratitude puts things in perspective so you realize that although the pain is miserable enough to make you want to quit, there are other great things that give your life meaning.
The pain you experience can be physical, mental, or emotional. It may be permanent, it may heal in a few weeks, or it may heal instantly. It may be slight, mild or severe.
Regardless of its type, duration or severity, gratitude works because it forces you to focus on something other than your own suffering. This takes advantage of a universal rule:
No two things can occupy the same space at the same time. Your thoughts, though you are unable to physically interact with them, are not exempt from this rule.
Whenever you think that you’re holding many thoughts simultaneously, all you’re doing is quickly switching your focus between them. Gratitude practice relies on the fact that you can’t hold more than one thought at a time in your mind.
If you think about something good, it’s impossible to think about the bad. When you focus on your blessings, it’s impossible to dwell on your misfortunes. When you’re busy expressing gratitude, it’s impossible to feel pity for yourself.
You refocus on the constructive and positive forces in your life; not on the destructive and negative agents.
The selfish scientific benefits of gratitude
Giving gratitude makes your brain more altruistic and charitable. Research done by the University of Oregon revealed the following
These positive emotions, in turn, have a host of other benefits on you psyche.
Your positive feelings increase, your immune system is boosted, and you are generally more effective in your life. According to WebMD:
“There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function,” says Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. In one, researchers comparing the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress found that, by midterm, students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates.”
A study done at the University of Oregon shoes that being grateful makes you more likely to give and giving has amazing benefits for your mind and body. From the author of the study, Christina Karns
“Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity became more valuable than receiving money yourself. After the brain calculates the exchange rate, you get paid in the neural currency of reward, the delivery of neurotransmitters that signal pleasure and goal attainment.”
Gratitude is a deep appreciation for what you have
I can hear the objections. “What if there is nothing good in my life? My life is terrible and everything is painful to look at! How can this gratitude practice work for me if my life is miserable?”
Gratitude works for everyone. The problem is that you’re being selfish.
If you’re alive, then you’re part of a fantastic world. There are so many things that make it wonderful. You’re just focusing on the wrong stuff.
Once in my life, things were getting bad. To combat my feelings of self-pity, I admired all the pretty girls around me. There are blind people in the world and I focused on the fact that I get to enjoy this part of nature.
You might say, “That’s just eyesight! There’s nothing special about that!”
Then you’re missing the point. Your eyesight, like all things in the world, is a privilege.
You aren’t promised eye-sight any more than you’re promised a hot meal or a place to sleep at night. Even if you only have the clothing on your back, be grateful for that.
Gratefulness and thankfulness makes you a creator
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Take unselfish action.
When you add to the world, it’s impossible to focus on your own problems.
If you elevate the world and the people in it, you have less time to think about what’s wrong in your life.
It takes dedication, focus, and selflessness to take something that was only an idea in your mind, pour energy into it, and make it a reality for other people to enjoy. You’re able to look at this thing and build something to feel grateful towards.
Gratitude changes your focus. This is necessary, because pain distracts us from the world, preventing us from acting purposefully. Our obsession with this pain causes paralysis and prevents us from taking steps that would allow us to take control of our lives.
It’s only through action that we move on and gain perspective. It’s not time alone that gets you past something, dwelling deep in thought and feeling sorry for yourself that ever changes how you feel. You need to do things that force you to focus on the better parts of life.
This is how you give thanks and develop an attitude of gratitude
Switch your focus to something that brings you joy.
If you have nothing, create something or build someone up.
Do the last step anyway. It dramatically decreases the time spent feeling sorry for yourself.
The rest is up to you.