Gratitude, the act of being thankful for the things around you, is much harder to practice than it is to preach.
Your automatic response to your friend’s complaint about being thirsty might be that there are millions of people in the world without clean water. A true statement, maybe, but do you follow the same principle in your own life?
Training yourself to pay attention to the things you are grateful for is just another form of behavior change. When everything is going wrong and it’s hard to focus on anything other than what you don’t have or what isn’t happening, the best way to get through it is to change your focus.
Instead of dwelling on what isn’t there, gratitude is all about focusing on what is.
Gratitude can improve your life by changing the way you think about and react to certain situations and circumstances. It can also change the way other people see you, and influence the way they behave around you.
Gratitude protects you from negative thoughts
Have you ever noticed how one negative thought seems to multiply inside your mind?
One minute you’re upset about that barista handing you the wrong drink, and the next thing you know, global warming is the fault of every single person standing next to you on the train platform and you wish you had never bothered getting out of bed at all this morning.
Taking a step back, though, it’s easier to remember that you can choose to be grateful for the little things, even if everything doesn’t always go the way you wish it would. Wrong kind of latte? At least you had time to stop for caffeine. Person talking too loud on their cell phone a few feet away? At least you have headphones. And so on.
Practicing gratitude can start to shield you from the negative thoughts that breeze through your mind when you are feeling disappointed, frustrated or unhappy.
How does this help to improve your life? Positive thinking can actually make you mentally and physically healthier. It helps you look at situations differently and find the good in the most awful things, no matter how upsetting they might be.
It reduces the harmful effects of stress
These days, it’s for whatever reason more attractive to be busy, tired and overwhelmed than not. Especially when you have the mask of social media as a one-way mirror. Glorifying your stress, unfortunately, doesn’t make you any less stressed. It also doesn’t reduce the negative effects stress has on your mind and your body.
Prolonged stress changes the way you are able to cope with the things happening around you. It damages you physically and makes it difficult to interact with other people. To be chronically stressed means you are pretty much inviting negativity, discomfort and unhappiness into your life. Who wants that?
Slowing down, stopping and taking a closer look at the things you are grateful for is a greater weapon against stress than you might realize.
Instead of wearing yourself down because you’re constantly striving for something you don’t have, finding things you are grateful for, no matter how small, can help you prioritize your tasks and focus on what is most important to you.
It really can act as a physical barrier to stress, in some ways. Being grateful might also be good for your heart. A professor out of the University of California School of Medicine conducted a study that may point to gratitude as a possible method for reducing your risk of heart disease.
Being grateful changes other people’s attitudes, too
If you’ve ever been having a great morning until that one co-worker shows up—you know, the one who complains more often than he breathes?—you already know how contagious negativity can be.
Negativity is toxic and spreads like a disease, infecting everyone in its general vicinity. Gratitude, though, works the same way.
Think of all those stories you hear of people “paying it forward” in drive-through lines for hours at a time. Someone else paid for your coffee, so why not do the same for someone else?
If you are a constant source of negativity for the people around you, they probably won’t want to be around you—because being around you makes them feel bad. The exact opposite goes for gratitude.
If you’re always the person in the office reacting optimistically to bad situations and finding the bright spot in the darkness, you’ll probably be a lot more popular (and happier).
Here’s how to be more mindful of the things you are grateful for
- If you’re having a rough day, sit down and make a list of 100 things you are thankful for. Think it will be hard? You might be surprised.
- Going around the table and saying something you’re thankful for doesn’t have to be exclusive to Thanksgiving dinner. Try it with your family on a regular basis.
- Write a thank-you note to someone who helped you in the past. Send it to them to spread the gratitude vibe.
- Instead of saying, “I’m sorry” to someone who has taken the time to listen to you, thank them instead.
Practicing gratitude isn’t something you have to save for when your life is going downhill. You can start practicing it right now.
It’s not about downplaying the bad things that are happening, but keeping the good things in mind to help you cope with the things that are more difficult to handle.
It seems like a trivial thing to do with so much happening in the world, but the more we focus on how unbearable it is, the harder it is to wipe away negative thoughts when we need positive ones the most. Being grateful makes it easier to deal with stress and makes you more likable, too.
The next time you’re feeling thirsty or disappointed or frustrated, give yourself a moment to think of something you’re grateful for. You will find that the emotion you were feeling fades away significantly when you shift your focus and remember that amidst all the negativity, there is still good to be found.