by Ryan Bart
“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”
Two people can share the same experience on the outside, such as watching the sunset at the beach, yet their inner experience is likely substantially different. This is based on the lens we use to encounter life. It’s a matter of perspective. The perspective we bring to life’s experiences can have a significant impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health. With practice, we can train our minds to focus our attention on life-giving thoughts/ways of experiencing instead of life-detracting mindsets.
One of the easiest and most impactful of ways of establishing and maintaining a life-giving mindset is to have an attitude of gratitude. Academic literature has demonstrated that those who consistently experience and acknowledge gratitude are happier, healthier, and have a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.
What is Gratitude? Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself. It is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.
– Emmons & McCullough (2003): Recognizing gratitude in one’s life improves overall life satisfaction and minimizes negative affect. It also proved to reduce the number of headaches.
– Seligman, et al, 2005: Those who wrote 3 good things that happened to them each day over a week had significantly higher happiness levels, and decreased depression 6 months afterward than participants who only wrote about early childhood memories over 1 week.
– Lyubomirsky, Tkach, and Sheldon (2004): 6 week intervention with college students to think about what they are grateful for each week. Results: Statistically significant increases in overall well-being of participants.
– Countless other studies with similar data.
Practicing gratitude is simple. However, it’s easy to get distracted by the stressors of day-to-day life and forget all that we have to be thankful for in the midst of the chaos. Some tools to help:
1) Keep a gratitude jar: each day, on a slip of paper or sticky note, write down 2-3 things you are grateful for on that day and put it in the jar. When you are feeling down or overwhelmed, read some notes from your gratitude jar.
2) Keep a running gratitude list: similar to the jar, write down 2-3 things you are thankful for each day (noting the date) and keep adding to the list daily.
3) Write a letter: Think of someone who has made a significant positive impact on your life and may not be aware of the impact they had. Write them a letter expressing your gratitude and what they mean to you. You can mail or hand deliver it. This is most powerful when hand delivered and you read it aloud to them.
4) Make a phone call: Like writing a letter, recognize someone who has a made a positive difference in your life. Call them and tell them what they mean to you.
5) Stop and smell the roses: Sounds cheesy, but it works! Take an extra moment to admire the sunset or sunrise, no matter what you are doing. Slow down and appreciate the droplets of dew on the blades of grass in the morning light. Take a deep breath, appreciate the natural beauty, give thanks for it, and continue with your day.
It didn’t take vast bodies of research for the ancient poet, Rumi, to understand the importance of gratitude. He once wrote, “wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”
By simply having gratitude in your awareness, you will learn to readily recognize all that you have to be grateful for (there is a lot when you stop to think about it). Most of us have nourishing food, safe/clean shelter, access to water, clothing, reliable transportation, and meaningful relationships to name a few. This is just the beginning. With gratitude, we begin to encounter reality just a little differently.