Gratitude, it begins with two heartfelt and meaningful words, thank you or the shorter one, thanks. To give thanks is to receive and to receive is to accept the gift of life. For some, actualizing gratitude is like meditation, a mindful practice that comes from a clean, conscious, open and untouched space of infinite love. Then, there are many who have jumped on the gratitude train. They live under the premise that the on trend thing to do is to update their social media as proof and validation of participation and a sense of belonging to the global gratitude campaign. Moments later, after their fleeting rants and posts they return to their regularly scheduled ungrateful selves. Last but certainly not least there is the yes man/woman who gives way to social conditioning and brainwashing. They affirm that gratitude is the display of attitude that corresponds with a space of being thankful for the good things and good vibes only. But for those quiet enough to still their racing mind and heart, to settle their spirit and mind and to realize that the paradox of light and dark, good and bad, positive and negative coexist in an almost mutually exclusive dynamic, they operate out of a space of giving thanks for the good and the bad experiences which have pivoted them to appreciate and enjoy an improved experience of life.
It is not a myth but a fact that the attitude of gratitude is becoming essential for health and wellness. Harvard Health supports this where a study was conducted with three groups of people over a period of time. One group wrote about things they were grateful for during the week, another group wrote about the things that aggravated them during the week and the other group wrote about the things that transpired during the week with neither effect nor correlation to gratitude and irritation. After some time, the results indicated that the group who wrote about what they were grateful for experienced more optimism, felt better about their lives, exercised more and had less frequent visits to their physician. Virginia Commonwealth University also showed interest in this area of research. After conducting their own studies, they discovered that thankfulness predisposed a lower risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence and drug abuse in their group. Psychologist Laurie Santos who also teaches on the science of well-being and happiness at Yale University recognizes the ongoing body of research and the upward trend for the practice of gratitude. She notes that the research has been able to show findings such as improved sleep, lower stress, improvements in interpersonal relationships as well as decreased materialism whilst reinforcing generosity among teens. A study of high school students also reported healthier eating after keeping a gratitude journal.
Although Santos found measurable improvement in the well-being of her students who are asked to keep a gratitude journal, she is keen on the fact that accessing and expressing gratitude is different for everyone. She offers that keeping gratitude journals and even writing a gratitude list can help access the aforementioned benefits of gratitude but asserts that these are not mandatory to unlocking the power of gratitude. The decision to habituate gratitude is within the decision making power of the individual and it remains there for them to decide to keep their practice private or if they wish to share it with others. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at The University of California Riverside studies happiness and gratitude. She advocates for the same, offering to find the best method of accessing and expressing gratitude by doing what feels right, natural and or meaningful to the individual. Sonja offers useful insight into the emotion of gratitude as a complicated one. She reiterates that expressing gratitude is not as clear cut as encountering pleasant feelings but that it can bring about feelings of humility, embarrassment and indebtedness. Her studies brought some interesting findings to light. Participants who practiced gratitude by counting their blessings once a week noticed an uptick in their happiness but this was not the case when they continued doing this for more than three times during the week. On another note, the professor mentions that careful consideration must be given to those adopting the attitude of gratitude into behavior therapy especially if they suffer from clinical depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. More often than not these people may find it challenging to identify what they are grateful for and feelings of guilt may resonate for not being able to reciprocate.
In order to adopt an attitude of gratitude in its purest form it may require one to remove their rose coloured glasses, to unlearn the dogma perpetuated and vicariously learned, to put down the pretty Kool Aid they were avariciously drinking from, to open one’s guarded heart and to awaken their consciousness to what lies ahead. Transformative power lies within, it begins and ends with the decision that precedes the individual to take back their life, to lead and live it on their own terms and to choose to bring out the best in themselves. An attitude of gratitude may not be for the faint of heart but for the heart that refuses to give in or give up on fighting for themselves. The differentiating factor between the two is the will to try, to practice, to make gratitude a habit and to eventually adopt an attitude of gratitude.