How many times have you heard somebody say "be grateful" or "I'm grateful"? Probably a lot, as they are common expressions. But what is it to be "grateful"? Most of the time, when people use these expressions, they are said reflexively. How do you actually "be grateful" in practice and make it more than a reflexive statement? To be grateful for something is to acknowledge the positive aspects of the thing brought into your life. On the other hand, we're often "grateful" for avoiding a near negative experience. The adjective grateful comes from an obsolete adjective grate, “agreeable, thankful,” which came from a Latin adjective, gratus, “pleasing.” Gratefulness is an abstract noun formed by adding the suffix -ness to grateful. Gratitude and gratefulness mean the same thing. How wonderful to have multiple words expressing a single and powerful act, expression and feeling all at once.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and
that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” - G.K. Chesterton
In this article, we're going to explore the idea of gratitude and uncover what it really means, why we feel it, the impact it has on our day-to-day life, and how to create it consciously to create more happiness, less stress, and success.
What is an Attitude of Gratitude?
An attitude of gratitude is where the underlying structure of your daily experience has gratitude attached to everything you experience and everything you have. It permeates through all areas of your life. Where you add gratitude in one area of your life, without fail, that gratitude will leak into other areas, because it is wonderfully infectious and uplifting. Ultimately it's a conscious choice that you make because there's kind of a belief or understanding that things are not coincidental and that you're part of a greater thing, whatever that is.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could
hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” - A.A. Milne
Having an attitude of gratitude is a shift in how you experience each moment throughout your day and your entire life. Positive and negative experiences both become viewed as things you have invited into your life. Instead of judging them, you see each one as a lesson from which to learn. You understand that your role in life is that of a co-creator. Things just don't happen to you; your thoughts, feelings and actions reverberate into the universe, and it responds back, most beautifully. You can call it taking responsibility, being present and in the moment, taking ownership, and a number of other phrases. But everything ties back into living in a state of love instead of fear, and adopting an attitude of gratitude is the best way to achieve it.
What are Some Examples of Gratitude?
Because we focus more on what we've lost than what we've gained, we lose sight of the endless things in life for which to be grateful. The most common things people say are that they're grateful for health, family, wealth, and happiness. These are all things you certainly should be grateful for, but they're large and general categories. We can see them directly, and unless we're specific with our gratitude, the benefits of practicing gratitude are not as effective.
“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the
joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only
in yourself.” - Tecumseh
Here are some examples of specific things in life you can show conscious gratitude for on a daily basis. Although it's understandable to have gratitude for avoiding negative experiences, it's better to focus on the positive experiences. Our minds don't do a good job at translating words or phrases created in the negative like "you’re not ____" and "I didn't ____". You are still putting the words you don’t want to think about in focus, despite the negative application. Your subconscious always says yes to whatever you expose it. So! put your focus and energy on what did happen, show gratitude, and you'll be amazing at the chain effect that creates over time.
Be grateful to the person who cooked for you
Being thankful for a good night's sleep
Appreciate the person who cleans your house
Acknowledge your junior at work for taking the initiative to ease your workload
Being grateful to yourself for your financial independence
Have gratitude for your friends for a memorable birthday celebration
Feel gratitude about having a job that allows you to have what you need to survive
Create your own gratitude list and add to it, even for the smallest seemingly unimportant things. Read it before bed and in the morning. When you focus on good things, more good things happen because that's where you put your focus. The direction and amplitude of your focus is key here.
What is the Opposite of Gratitude?
The opposite of gratitude is trying to control everything. Being disappointed, being frustrated, and having expectations are all coming from fear. Control might seem to be a good solid solution to life, however, it can be very limiting and isolating. It does not allow for growth and new opportunities to find their way to you. Everything ultimately comes down to love or fear. Those are the only two things upon which we base our decisions. If we're living in a state of fear, it's because we believe it's safe. That might seem like an odd thing to say, but somewhere in our past, we learned living in a state of fear keeps us safe. In an effort to try to feel safer in a situation, you try to always maintain control. If those feelings and actions worked in the past, you will employ those solutions again, because it worked! (and frankly, why try to keep reinventing the stone wheel, right? Until perhaps you learn about better wheels out there to create for yourself.) You direct your control with expectations, setting limits and boundaries on your experiences.
The reality is there is only one thing you have the power to control - your beliefs. That's it. And so when you recognize and believe that you're already safe, you're no longer that child that relied on fear for survival, then gratitude naturally comes in.
“Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.” - Rumi
But initially, you have to kind of force the gratitude if you're just starting off because you're not used to the fact that things are safe; your body's not ready for safety yet. When you practice gratitude as a conscious choice for maybe five or 10 minutes, going into the grocery store and being grateful, having a small conversation with the clerk or whatever it is, then when you start to feel better because you're having a beautiful conversation and then your energy lifts, then their energy lifts. And, and all that mirrored energy expands.
Why is it Important to Have Gratitude?
It's important to have this attitude because your world tends to open up more, your happiness increases. You're more grateful for the things small or large that you have. Conversely, if you're constantly disappointed or frustrated with where you are, then everything will then be tainted.
It makes it difficult or impossible to appreciate what you do have. You'll constantly be looking outside of yourself to fulfill the holes. But when you have conscious gratitude, it frees you to enjoy all the little things along with the big things. You can enjoy the happy moments and even the sad moments and appreciate them for what they are - not what you want them to be. When you adopt an attitude of gratitude, you're more able to live in the present.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” - Epicurus
What to Expect When Adopting an Attitude of Gratitude Philosophy.
Rule number one is to have no expectations, but it's fair to ask what adopting a gratitude mindset can feel like. In many ways, it's like forming a new habit. It doesn't happen right away. You have to consciously work on it and have the discipline to give it a proper and honest try.
The biggest change you'll first notice is your reactions. When something unexpected or negative happens, rather than automatically flipping the switch to angry, fearful, or stressed, you will stop and go the opposite direction. You're going to consciously tell yourself that you've chosen to react differently. You'll remind yourself that you're now switching to being more conscious, expansive, aware, and grateful, and that the other person is projecting their thoughts and feelings from their past, and that their feelings have absolutely nothing to do with you.
You'll be shocked at what this conscious effort does to your physical body. Instead of getting a raised heart rate, you'll maintain your baseline rate. You may even feel calmer because now you're thinking about being calm. Reality might feel like it's slowing down, and your focus may sharpen. Your mind will be more active because it's searching for solutions and opportunities rather than being paralyzed in a state of fear. Energy flows where attention goes.
Try it for two weeks and see if your life does not start changing. Your life will automatically get better. You'll sleep better. Be calmer. Have more energy. You'll become brighter, and people will be more attracted to you. They'll think you just seem so happy, and say I want to talk to that person. We're attracted to both physical and mental health in nature. And when you're living in a gratitude state of mind, you project it, and people notice.
How Does Conscious Belief Affect Gratitude?
When you're first adopting an attitude of gratitude, it will be a conscious effort. After time, like any new strong habit, it becomes a natural way of being rather than a conscious choice. You're going to be practicing this until you die because it's a system that influences every decision you make in life. When you're transitioning into a new habit, you're also fighting and trying to forget the old habit. So you will find yourself in moments falling into a state of fear. But you'll be able to recognize and get out of those negative, fearful moments more quickly when you know what to look for and how to react.
One conscious new habit you'll develop is asking yourself questions. Why am I bringing this into my life? What am I doing here? What beliefs about myself am I sending out to attract this? When you feel peaceful, confident, and happy, you project it, and it comes back to you. Likewise, when you feel fearful, angry, and stressed, you attract that or repel positive energy and become isolated and further exasperate your misery.
Your beliefs and the effects become logarithmic over time. It starts clunky in the beginning. It might feel awkward in the beginning. You might think I shouldn't be happy. I can't be happy. It's wrong to have a lot more than my parents did. I feel guilty being too happy. But if you imagine stepping into your parents' experience, whether they're alive or not, do you think that they would ever not want your greatest happiness? They may have been completely imperfect, and they might've been angry, frustrated people. But could you ever imagine a parent who had you as their child to ever want less than a hundred percent happiness for you?
Gratitude Helps You Leave the Guilt Behind.
When you let the guilt of the past go, you can start allowing yourself the opportunity to experience happiness. The universe always says yes, but most of us never ask. When you start looking for happiness, you’ll find it fast. It’s already in you, waiting to be released.
Giving yourself the permission to not feel guilty but feel gratitude for life’s endless gifts is the greatest gift you can give anyone. I say anyone because when you give that gift to yourself, it snowballs into helping everyone you encounter in life.
“Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us
from the prison of self-preoccupation.” - John Ortberg
So if any family member pops into your head when you feel guilty about thinking about happiness, ask yourself - do they really want me to be unhappy? 99% of the time, the answer will be no. Maybe they’re sociopaths and really want you to be unhappy. If that’s the case, then just ask yourself - why do I need to do this? What will happen to them if I choose happiness?
The more you can understand the power that you have of making more conscious decisions for yourself and letting go of those triggers and the guilt, and then you're going to shoot for the stars. You're going to be so much happier when you really look for your happiness.
How Do You Develop an Attitude of Gratitude?
Do you want to have the freedom of living in the present and finding the positives in all things that happen to you? You're probably saying this all sounds great, but how do I transition from where I am now to this? The first thing to understand is the powerful connection between your physical body and your mind.
Step one is to take a breath and find yourself in the present moment. With every moment that comes along, start to notice where your mind is, whether you are thinking about the past or the future.
“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the
past and fear of the future.” Fulton Oursler
If you're in the present, then you're just here. There are no expectations when you're in the now. You're just here in that moment and appreciating and letting it come along as it does. You must get out of that past and future thinking and just keep breathing in and living in the moment as it is. No expectations or lamentations. If you start to get into thinking negative thoughts about what it isn't, what it should be, what it could have been, acknowledge it and just focus on your breath, as it will bring you back into the present - the place where you want to be.
Develop the Habit of Self-Awareness.
Conscious self-awareness is the next step to living with an attitude of gratitude. When you catch yourself with expectations and judgments, acknowledge them. The more you catch yourself and acknowledge it, the more you can examine it. You're trying to control an uncontrollable situation. You can't control it, and as a result, you're feeling stressed, frustrated, and unhappy. Put that urge to control into the one thing you can control - where you put your focus. Put your focus on where your mind is going and ask questions and notice it. Once you notice it and call it out, you can then begin the next step, which is redirecting it.
The Universe Gives You What You Are Already Resonating With.
Nearly every tradition, culture, and religion has a story or lesson about the idea of you getting back whatever you put out. If you're putting out negative, fearful or contracting energy, expect that same energy to come your way. If you're putting out good energy and staying positive, good things will happen. Some call this the law of attraction. Others say it's just a filter change. We have an infinite amount of things we can choose to focus on but can only choose a very limited amount. When we direct our focus on the positive and expansive, then we're able to see more positive and expansive. We're also happier, more energetic people, and other people are attracted to that, so more good things come our way. In many ways, you create what you believe. So if you believe that looking for the positive pays off, then you're going to look for those positive moments that maybe someone else might not notice. It shifts your filter and opens new doors of opportunity that would have stayed closed otherwise.
Try a Systems Approach to Gratitude
Even if you're a person with an engineering mind, you can introduce an attitude of gratitude into your life and benefit. Engineers love taking a systems approach to solving problems. You can think of adopting a gratitude mindset as a system that helps you get consistently better results. Think of it as a kind of software you're choosing to run. One person is running Pessimism 2.0, and the other is running Gratitude 2.0. The individual that's choosing to run the negative pessimistic software is limited to following the code in the software. If something doesn't go their way, they must react negatively to it. They can't believe it happened. They feel angry and frustrated. Life sucks. To make matters worse, the negative software raises their stress hormones and hurts their immune system.
What about the person who chooses to run their system on Gratitude 2.0 software? When something unexpected or seemingly bad happens, they too must follow the software code. They don't immediately go to a negative place. Instead, they react in the moment. They ask questions and try to learn from it. They see if any formerly locked doors have now opened as a result. Their software requires them to look for the positive, so they do, and as a result, find it.
The only way to know if a system works is to test it. So go ahead and test it. I think you'll love running Gratitude 2.0 software on your system.
"Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial
into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity...it makes
sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for
tomorrow." - Melody Beattie