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Anatomy of Gratitude

by Marianne Navada

Gratitude is a powerful mental state that contributes to overall happiness and well-being. It’s easy to feel incredulous when celebrities talk about the power of gratitude, I mean, how can Oprah not be grateful, right? But gratitude is not about the amount of money one has, type of job, or looks. Research confirms that everyday people, when given the tools to practice gratitude, are happier.

What is Gratitude? The 5 Points

  • Gratitude is the “quality of being thankful and a tendency to show appreciation for what one has”.
  • You focus on what you have instead of what you lack.
  • Gratitude is not permanent. We are more grateful some days that others.
  • Gratitude can be learned. You can train yourself to summon gratitude.
  • You can’t judge whether one person is more grateful than you just by looking at them and their life because gratitude is not about what one has, but a mental state. This also means that gratitude has to be an internal achievement and not a competition.

Benefits of Being Grateful

Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Source | Harvard

The benefits of gratitude go both ways, from the person showing gratitude to the one receiving it. Research on workplace and gratitude shows that through appreciation, managers can increase employee satisfaction and motivation.

The Nature of Appreciation and Why We Fail to Appreciate

One reason for lack of appreciation is that the brain adapts and gets accustomed to what it knows. So if last year you thought a new car would make you happy and you got the new car, a year later, that same car won’t make you happy anymore (Yale).

Gratitude is being in the moment. You’re not lamenting on what you had or could have had, but you are celebrating what you had, currently have, and whatever the future brings.

Being grateful doesn’t mean that you’re complacent with the present. Rather, you believe that through work, patience, and dedication, life gets better–YOU get better. That’s why you’re more likely to understand that the present is not permanent. Nothing is guaranteed in life—tomorrow may be more favorable or not and that’s why you find joy in the present.

Types of Gratitude

Gratitude can be for the intangible, such as happiness, health, or for the tangible, such as food we consume, our house, people, or other sentient beings.

Gratitude can be for that which is close to us and we experience their presence directly, such as the air we breathe, financial security, our best friend.

Gratitude can be for that which may be far away from us, that we can only imagine or read about, such as for scientists that dedicate their lives to finding cures for diseases, for people that work tirelessly to make the world more just, or to those who have touched our lives and have now passed away. This means that gratitude can be for the past, with the understanding that the present is being built by it.

Gratitude comes in many forms. It can be done in solitude by reflecting on it, or in active form, such as writing someone a note of thanks, giving our loved ones a hug, smiling when the sun touches our skin, doing our part in taking care of our planet, giving to the causes we care about.

How to Make Gratitude a Part of Your Daily Life

  • Make it a habit of spending 3 minutes a day reflecting on what you’re grateful for, and write them down. These can be experiences, people, or things you currently have or had in the past.
  • Switch from “I have to” to “I get to”: Think of things that you are sometimes reluctant to do such as exercise, school, or grocery. Instead of saying “I have to exercise” shift to “I get to exercise”.
  • When you find yourself underwhelmed by your life and everything you have or comparing your life to others, have a mantra ready.
  • Negative Visualization: these are “what-if” scenarios that recalibrate your way of thinking. If you’re unhappy with your body, think of what would happen if something negative happens to it. If you are unhappy with your job, think of how you would feel if you lost it and the consequences.
  • Mindful Purchase: For those moments when you open an email newsletter and you find yourself shopping online, or browsing through store apps, give yourself a moment to appreciate what you have. If you’re thinking of buying a new pair of yoga pants, first check your closet for how many you currently have. It helps to keep an organized closet, where you can see and count everything. Touch and feel the ones you have, thank them. Ask yourself if you really need one more pair.
Commit to living.