Is anyone else besides me feeling overwhelmed and worn out by the constant barrage of negativity permeating our lives? Seriously, I long to escape into the solitude of my garden, or retreat into my car to bathe in gentle, refreshing music. It is an ominous sign when every day seems to bring another scandal, tragedy or shocking event without reprieve; even worse than the day before! Thank goodness for corny Hallmark movies.
About 30 years ago, a group of clinical psychologists began to explore the notion of “positive psychology” in reaction to their overwhelmingly negative discipline. Here began the scientific study of emotions such as gratitude, optimism, forgiveness, happiness, compassion and altruism. At the time, this type of study was a revolutionary idea in the field of psychology since most of the research about human emotion had previously focused on mental illness, trauma, addiction and stress – all very negative.
Wow, did this research open some amazing new doors of understanding. Cultivating positive personal attributes fortifies us during times of adversity and emotional turmoil and leads to greater happiness and resilience. Wonderfully, of all the attributes one can develop, Gratitude is the most powerful in stimulating excellent mental and emotional health!
Gratitude is our emotion that drives our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Moreover, expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational wellbeing, and impacts our overall experience of happiness. Plus, these effects tend to be long-lasting. What a great recipe for overcoming the doldrums of life!
Let me cut to the chase – this is a pretty impressive list of Gratitude benefits:
- Improved physical, emotional and social well-being
- Greater optimism and happiness
- Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crises
- Increased self-esteem
- Heightened energy levels
- Strengthened heart, immune system and decreased blood pressure
- Improved emotional and academic intelligence
- Expanded capacity for forgiveness
- Decreased stress, anxiety, depression and headaches
- Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
- Heightened spirituality—ability to see something bigger than ourselves
Unfortunately, Cultivating Gratitude takes work; you just can’t flip a Gratitude switch behind your ear and be transformed. Inspirational author, Alan Cohen, puts it this way, “Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.”
Here are some simple exercises for your Gratitude Muscle!
First, make it a daily routine to identify experiences to be grateful for. Some people keep a Gratitude journal, some people make mental notes, others make a point to express gratitude whenever they can.
Second, set aside 2-5 minutes, several times a day, to rehearse positive, Grateful experiences. I have heard it said before that negative experiences stick to our brains like Velcro, while positive experiences slip away like Teflon. Thus, we need to force ourselves to retrain our thought processes in order to move away from the “dark side” and into the light of Gratitude.
Third, say thank you often. Don’t overlook any opportunity to acknowledge something positive, something beautiful, enjoyable or heartwarming!
Fourth, control and protect the environment of your brain. The more time you spend listening to negative garbage, the more difficult it will be to express Gratitude. Turn off Talk Radio, social media, the TV and/or negative relationships. These represent a mentally destructive force that will do nothing but steal your peace, rob you of joy, promulgate internal turmoil and turn you into a curmudgeon!
Fifth, practice positive, uplifting conversation–avoiding gossiping, judging and trashing people to others. The dark side of human nature is generally much stronger; consequently, we have to fight against it and prevail. My mom used to always tell me, “There is always something good in everyone, even if you have to look really hard to find it!” She would also say, “It is better to say nothing at all than something negative.”
Sixth, police yourself! When you find yourself thinking or saying something critical or negative, stop yourself, take a deep breath, and redirect your thoughts. If you are listening to something, or engaging in a conversation which is causing you to get amped up, agitated, angry and negative–extract yourself! It is near impossible to be Grateful while storms are raging within.
Seventh, start every morning and end every day with an expression of Gratitude; preferably to someone else, but at least to yourself. This is especially important for your children (or grandchildren) to hear. But as I said above, don’t limit this to morning and evening; make it an ongoing practice.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to feel better about life, be healthier, be joyful, be happy, have reduced stress and anxiety, and feel good about themselves. Cultivating Gratitude is the path to Emotional Prosperity. The only thing that is stopping this prosperity from happening is YOU! Start working out those Gratitude Muscles.
Finally, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. You’ll never regret doing this and it will transform your soul!