Gratitude is more than a positive personality trait or a willy-nilly feeling. Gratitude has the power to change the lens through which we view the world, bringing us more joy, health and satisfaction. It’s easy to see the problems in life, not because we are cynical, but because we are looking for what we can improve in our lives. The downside to this is that we can skip over the miracles in our lives, taking the small gifts for granted.
Creating a gratitude practice such as a gratitude jar, gratitude meditation or a gratitude journal is a great way to press pause on that dissatisfied inner voice constantly seeking more.
The Definition of Gratitude
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which translates as grace or favor. Interestingly, the word grace is defined as "smoothness and elegance of movement" and "courteous goodwill,” which speaks of bringing flow and harmony into your life.
Another phrase for gratia in Latin is “gratus animus.” Gratus means grateful, agreeable, pleasing, acceptable and welcome. Animus means heart, mind, affections, purpose and feeling. Much of human life is about kindness and compassion (giving and receiving), which makes a gratitude practice so transformative.
Recognizing and affirming benevolence has a vitalizing effect on the mind, body and spirit. That might be why gratitude is at the core of every major spiritual tradition. The roots of a gratitude practice must be in selflessly rejoicing in the other and seeking opportunities for giving, rather than using it as a narcissistic self-improvement technique.
A practice of gratitude will help you to live a wonderful life, and is the opposite of being entitled. Rather, a practice of gratitude is rejoicing in the gifts and wonders of life. Gratitude has been established as a universal human attribute suggesting that it is at the core of our very being.
The Healing Power of Gratitude
Gratitude has amazing powers of improving mental health and has proven in clinical trials to have long lasting healing properties. It promotes feelings of love and tenderness toward other people and life experiences. A deep practice of gratitude also has the power of alleviating trauma, due to its other-directed understanding.
Gratitude is used in a clinical setting with Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Therapy (ADEPT). ADEPT was designed by American psychologist Diana Fosha. The premise is that we are all capable of self-healing and transformation in the right environment. ADEPT is designed to create a deep emotional connection with both yourself and other people.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” —Lao Tzu
In the paper Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention published by Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the University of California, the writers astutely wrote: “Losing some aspects of one’s life may lead the person to increase the value they see in other aspects of life.”
Gratitude Breeds Connection
We all know that it’s nice to get gifts, but the feeling of joy from material objects is fleeting. Taking the time to be truly thankful for all of the blessings in your life will open doors. Our life depends on the existence of everything in the universe, from the sun and moon to the oceans and trees. And each person can play a special role in our lives. Taking the time to write a thank you note to spread the love has also been shown to benefit those with mental health challenges.
“With this attitude, people recognize that they are connected to each other in a mysterious and miraculous way that is not fully determined by physical forces, but is part of a wider, or transcendent context.” -Streng (1989)
Gratitude can be seen as the elemental life force that powers compassion. We are all intricately connected and as such a practice of gratitude gives thanks to the interdependence, interpenetration, and mutuality of living.
Gratitude isn’t merely positive thinking; it is a deep appreciation for life. Contrast can also be viewed through the eyes of gratitude. Pain and affliction can be released when they are contrasted with more positive aspects of the now. No matter how small, there is always something to be grateful for.
What does a Gratitude Practice Look Like?
In the first instance you can simply pay attention to what is going well in your life. Taking time to shift your focus from the negative to the positive. A gratitude practice should include the understanding that even painful situations are teachers. The simple act of redirecting our focus can take us from a place of victimhood to appreciation, altering our view of the world.
Simple 3-Step Gratitude Practice
- Step 1 - Attention - become aware of the blessings in your life that you may have taken for granted.
- Step 2 - Tune into the many reasons for gratitude that exist in our lives.
- Step 3 - Write it down - Writing is scientifically proven to be more powerful than simply thinking thoughts of gratitude. You can choose to write down one thought a day and place it in a gratitude jar. Or you may like to keep a special gratitude journal and write down 5-10 blessings every day.
If you choose to use a gratitude jar, you can amplify the benefits by sharing the experience with your family. Sharing a gratitude jar will encourage family members to have a grateful outlook on life. Counteracting feelings of entitlement, envy, and resentment, which are negative feelings that push people away from us. A gratitude jar encourages each member of the family to practice thinking in a positive way that will bring joy, prosperity and connection into your home.
“Always be rejoicing. Give thanks for everything.” -1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18.
Gratitude intervention remains an untapped therapeutic resource that can be used by anyone, especially those working in healthcare settings. Changing the perspective of a patient from one of despair to gratitude could catalyze their healing process. Adding gratitude techniques is an easy way to boost your self esteem and that of those around you.