There is a variety of things that can conjure positive feelings of appreciation or gratitude that may guide people towards meaning and better health.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gratitude is an emotion similar to appreciation, and research has found neurological reasons why so many people can benefit from this general practice of expressing thanks for our lives, even in times of challenge and change.
To begin though, we need to define what we mean by “gratitude.”
Thankfully, it doesn’t mean convincing yourself of some bogus notion that everything’s fine and dandy. Living your life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on what you appreciate. The goal is not to block out difficulties, but to approach those difficulties from a different perspective. Appreciation softens us. It soothes our turbulent minds by connecting us with the wonderfully ordinary things, great and small, that we might otherwise take for granted.
Go ahead and take gratitude for a spin right now. Think of anything at all in your life that you can feel thankful for: that driver who yielded when you realized you were in the wrong lane, the fact that the sun rose this morning, any quality in yourself that you admire. When you’re thankful, how does your body respond? Is there a sense of lightness? Tingling? Warmth? In what way does expressing gratitude change your outlook? Might there be a connection between gratitude and happiness?
Gratitude can help us see that not everything is terrible—not all the time, anyway. Practicing gratitude can keep our hearts open to the tenderness in our daily experiences. There are so many things to be grateful for. Take trees, for example. Trees freely provide fruit and shelter and even offer themselves as climbing gyms for the young, the old, whilst being prepared to sacrifice their very existence for the warmth of men. The wild kingdoms of plants and animals are exuberant, colourful, and extravagant. We are surrounded by abundance and yet mindlessly whirl into automatic pilot, losing sight of life’s nourishing wonders.
The same is true of people. Have you ever picked up someone else’s socks, or stayed late at the office to help out, or held a door open for a stranger? When no one bothers to thank you, how does it feel? And who do you fail to thank? Remember: Offering our appreciation to one another is a powerful way to strengthen and even repair emotional bonds. Try it. It’s free.
As we cultivate greater appreciation for what is around us, we can include being thankful for what’s inside of us. We can delight in and feel grateful for our own unique talents and strengths. Perhaps you have a knack for making people laugh, or for being an astute listener. Or maybe you can thank yourself for just getting out of bed and making it through the day. We can be grateful that we have a heart, a mind, and the wisdom to know how to live with kindness and compassion.