“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu, 600 BCE
Canadian Thanksgiving is almost upon us and now is the perfect time of the year to reflect on everything good in our lives. Gratitude is a beautiful thing. It teaches us how abundant our lives are even on our worst days. The more we acknowledge the good things we have in our lives, the more good we will attract. Some days we find ourselves smiling while walking down the street because we are embodying that gratitude and feel it deep in our bones and hearts. Other days, maybe not so much- but the more often we can begin to shift to that grateful space the happier and more fulfilled we’ll feel.
We’re all capable of being happy, and feeling happiness. We just need to make decisions that will lead to positive changes and actions, and be grateful for what and who we have in our lives. The more time we spend fostering positive relationships with ourselves and others, and reflecting on how amazing those people and our lives are, the happier we will become.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus, 300 BCE
Among many other studies with similar results, a 2011 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that grateful adults have a higher sense of well-being than their ungrateful counterparts. This was true regardless of age, gender, marital status, or personality type. A study published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine (JACM) also found that gratitude is linked to decreased symptoms of depression and increased feelings of happiness.
Stress hormones wreak havoc on our bodies and minds, so gratitude exercises may be an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. The JACM study linked above also found that gratitude is correlated with reduced feelings of stress, which plays a large roll in overall wellbeing. Research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2015 found that people who consciously cultivated gratitude were less affected by daily stress than those who didn’t have a practice.
Improve Sleep Quality
Studies published in the Journal of Health Psychology and Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being both linked gratitude-boosting practices, like writing down three things you’re grateful for every day, to better sleep. It makes sense, because when we realize all we have to be grateful for, we worry less about the silly things that keep us up at night.
Re-ignites a Sense of Purpose
Feeling burnt out at work? For a 2011 study published in Educational Psychology researchers had school teachers regularly practice counting their blessings for several weeks in a row. The findings: participants benefited from increased levels of satisfaction in life and sense of personal accomplishment as well as decreased levels of emotional exhaustion and sense of detachment.
Gratitude is an integral feature of healthy relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin published a study that found gratitude was part of a self-re-inforcing upward spiral among couples. Partners feel grateful when their counterpart is responsive and puts effort into maintaining the relationship, and in turn, this sense of gratitude motivates them to reciprocate. Perhaps this effect underlies the finding of study published in the Journal of Research in Personality that gratitude leads to higher levels of perceived social support.
Motivates Social Responsibility
In 2007 a study published in the Journal of Business Ethics found that more grateful corporate employees had a greater sense of responsibility about employee and societal issues. A study in Motivation and Emotion that focused on youth corroborated the finding that grateful people have a greater sense of social responsibility; the authors explain that feeling grateful may motivate young adults to give back to their neighborhood, community, and world. In turn, increased social integration enhanced these young adults’ feelings of gratitude. Much like the phenomenon described in close relationships above, this is another self-reinforcing upward spiral toward emotional and social well-being.
Helps Us Overcome Ego
In yoga, the ego is a constant barrier. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that gratitude and humility go hand-in-hand. Researchers found that gratitude-enhancing exercises left participants less focused on themselves and more aware of the value of others.
In the challenging phases of life, gratitude may help us cope. The Journal of Happiness found that breast cancer patients who can scrape together feelings of gratitude tend to feel more positive emotions and less distress, and they tend to redirect the energy of trauma towards personal growth.
On a related note, when the time comes to leave this life, gratitude may help us come to terms with the transition. Researchers explained that when people re-examined their life events through the lens of gratitude they developed the sense that their life had been well-lived and seemed to become less fearful of death.
How to Develop a Regular Gratitude Practice
There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment. ― Swami Sivananda, 1900’s
Start a personal challenge to practice gratitude everyday, it doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task- it could be as easy as simply taking a moment each day to notice something or someone whom you’re grateful for. This could then lead you to deeper practices, like writing a daily gratitude journal or incorporating thank-filled mantras into your morning meditation.
To begin recognize thatgratitude is being aware of the abundance in our lives.
Place your awareness on your heart
Ask yourself ‘What am I grateful for?’ and let the answers come from your gut. Trust your instincts, they’re usually always right.