Gratitude: “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”
I recently finished a fabulous book by the philosopher Seneca, titled “Letters to Lucilius”. If you haven’t already, I would definitely recommend putting it on your list. It’s a collection of letters from Seneca to his disciple Lucilius, where he shares his life lessons and discusses what we would now refer to as “gratitude”.
Over the past year, it feels that gratitude has become somewhat of a trendy new concept. Even though it’s fantastic to see the practice gaining a mainstream audience, I worry the true meaning of ‘showing gratitude’ has been forgotten, and this is what I would like to share with you in this post.
So, what exactly is gratitude?
Gratitude is a life principle that has been practiced for thousands of years. Gratitude is “the habit of being thankful for everything that comes to you”. It encourages us to appreciate what we already have, instead of focusing on what we do not.
A study led by the Greater Good Science Center called the Thnx4 Project found participants who regularly practiced gratitude reported many mental and physical benefits, these including:
- Physical health: Contributors who kept an online gratitude journal noticed an improvement in their physical health. This consisted of fewer headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin, and reduced congestion.
- Psychological health: Showing gratitude was found to increase happiness and well being by over 10% long term, while also reducing stress and helping with feelings of frustration or anger.
- Help with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Strengthen your immune system.
- Reduce symptoms of mental health disorders, such as depression.
- Improve your mind’s ability to cope with stressful situations and build mental resilience.
And so much more!
So, if gratitude has all these positive effects, why doesn’t everyone practice it?
Well, for some of us, the practice of gratitude can still seem too abstract and philosophical.
I often hear the term “attitude of gratitude”, the definition of this being “a settled way of thinking or feeling about something.” And until last year, I definitely had the “attitude of gratitude” but rarely applied ‘showing gratitude’ into my everyday life.
In my opinion, the expression “attitude of gratitude” is too simplistic and limited. Attitude implies only thinking or feeling something, rather than acting on it. For example, if we understand the rules of tennis but don’t grab a racket and take to the court, we will never learn how to play. If we read a recipe but don’t gather the ingredients and make it, we will never learn how to cook.
This is why I like to focus more on the practice of gratitude, rather than the attitude of gratitude. Only having the attitude of something causes us to be bystanders, but I believe that to see results, we must be actors.
For that reason, over the past year, I have practiced gratitude through meditation and writing. One year later, I can now share what I’ve discovered with you.
Firstly, I sleep much better. Even though some may argue that sleeping patterns can be affected by a number of factors, I find it too much of a coincidence that my sleeping improved massively around the time I started practicing gratitude.
Secondly, gratitude has empowered me to relativize and to reflect. I’ve learned not to take things for granted, and to appreciate what I already have. It’s helped me gain perspective on how lucky I am to have many things that often go unnoticed in my busy everyday life, such as a roof over my head, safety, and good health.
Likewise, showing gratitude through writing has helped me gain a wonderful appreciation for the simple pleasure of existence. The joys of life are not only “visible, obvious, evident”, for example, a promotion, graduation, the purchase of a new car.
But the joy of life is also appreciating the small things, like when a car stops to let me cross the street, or people smiling at you as you cross paths in the subway (Which is rare enough to be appreciated!) or even just when the sun is shining.
Taking the time to appreciate and savor these moments brings you one step closer to fulfillment.
Gratitude, therefore, has helped me to put things into perspective. I naturally find myself looking at life as a glass-half-full kind of person, rather than half empty.
Is every day a successful day of gratitude? No. Do I sometimes grumble about something insignificant? Yes! But it’s all a learning experience, and the more I practice, the more natural being grateful becomes.
I still have a long way to go before reaching the level of optimism I aspire to, but I believe learning and growing through these experiences is the purpose of life. If we were already perfect, we’d never feel the sense of achievement that learning a new skill gives us and life would become boring, don’t you think? I believe seeing ourselves evolve, progress, and grow is what gives life flavor!
To conclude, I truly hope this article was informative, and that it encourages you to start or keep cultivating and practicing gratitude! I believe that if everyone started practicing gratitude, the world would be a gentler, more caring, and empathetic place.
If you already practice gratitude, I salute you. If you haven’t yet begun, when are you starting? 🙂