Gratitude is the most effective investment that you can make in your own wellbeing, health and happiness. In terms of return on investment (effort versus result) there is no more effective attitude or practice to adopt, than that of gratitude. It gives us access to the joy and wonderment of life which in turn, are antidotes to feelings of scarcity and loss. It helps you meet life’s difficulties with a more open heart ─ to simply meet life in each moment as it rises.
We’re told (particularly as children) to be grateful for our blessings or good fortune. This is an excellent idea but does not go far enough. We should be grateful ─ period. We experience the full potential and benefits that an attitude of gratitude brings when gratitude is perceived and cultivated as a habit or attitude of mind not dependent on conditions.
For me a lack of gratitude means we are clearly not paying attention to the miracle of our own existence. We take our lives, all life, the gift of consciousness, of connecting with others for granted. Then, in our ignorance, we whine that life isn’t working out as we believe it should or as we want it to.
Ego divides our world and thus our experience into me/not me and mine/not mine. In other words, it creates a sense of separation. Whilst we suffer this illusion of separation the world feels hostile. With an attitude of gratitude we see the illusion of separation for what it is: an illusion. Instead, we experience the world as a place of belonging and connection.
The Buddha taught that gratitude is necessary for integrity. What does that mean?
The Buddha said, “A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.”
What the science says:
Studies confirm so many surprising benefits from the practice and attitude of gratitude. For example, there is a link between gratitude and patience. People with a strong sense of gratitude are more likely to be able to delay gratification. This shows us that gratitude is also an antidote to greed. The root of greed is a sense of not having enough (compared to others). However, in the words of Epicetus, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants”.
Gratitude assures us that what we have is enough. Greed and gratitude cannot peacefully coexist. Neither can gratitude coexist with other “negative” emotions such as regret, jealousy and resentment.
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. People who practice gratitude tend to feel more “positive” emotions, improve their health, deal better with adversity, are better able to cherish and savour good experiences in life and build strong relationships. They tend to feel more positive and optimistic about their lives.
Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis:
Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least a gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Count your blessings. Take time once a week to “count your blessings”. Better still, sit down and write about your blessings. It helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write be specific and feel about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Thank someone mentally. If you are very busy or are in a situation in which writing is not very practical, just think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank the individual.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved-one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
Meditate. Mindfulness and meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. It allows us to see our lives with fresh eyes ─ the miracle of our existence.