Gratitude has therapeutic benefits on your psychology and overall well-being. Let’s dig deeper to understand how to cultivate the gratitude mindset and reap the benefits.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is derived from a Latin root word gratis that means pleasing or gratefulness. Gratitude is an appreciation of blessings of life, tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people learn to see the optimistic side of life. Gratitude establishes a connection between individuals and other people, Mother Nature, or the higher being of God.
According to Paul Pruyser, a clinical psychologist, derivatives from similar roots commonly refer to the beauty of giving and receiving kindness, or generosity.
Gratitude is otherwise called ‘moral memory of mankind’ by Georg Simmel, a sociologist. He derives this name from a grateful individual’s act of repaying as an appreciation of gifts.
As per Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude mentions in his essay Why Gratitude Is Good that gratitude has two main components. The first is the ‘affirmation of goodness’, and the second is recognition of external sources of goodness—maybe, higher powers.
As for the evolution of gratitude, it happened by strengthening the bonds between members of similar species.
Research on Gratitude
Studies have shown that staying focused on what an individual is grateful for is psychologically rewarding by increasing the feeling of happiness and fulfilment.
Another study conducted at Harvard University demonstrated that, in a positive psychology study, gratitude is strongly associated with more happiness, positive emotions, better relationships, improved coping mechanisms, and improved overall health.
Since the early 2000s, a multitude of research on gratitude was conducted, including the landmark research works of Michael McCullough, Robert Emmons, and numerous other psychologists. A study reveals that there’s a neural connection between gratitude and the act of giving. The more we are grateful, the more charitable our brains become. Another study emphasizes the reciprocity of a benefactor as an expression of gratitude in the form of altruistic actions.
In 2017, Christina Karns, a leading neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, studied the connection between receiving or giving gifts via computer-generated money that was either added to an individual’s account or into the food bank instead. The participants who were more altruistic were found more grateful in the process of giving.
Why Is Gratitude So Important?
Oprah Winfrey beautifully expresses the importance of gratitude in human life:
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
Gratitude is a positive vibe or emotion that surrounds an individual to attract greater good in life. Similar to the law of attraction, the more you send out into the world, the more it is returned to you. The power of gratitude positively affects both internally and externally.
Practicing gratitude regularly will unshackle you from the toxicity of emotions, shift your priorities to appreciate people and to stay content with what life has given you.
According to a study, gratitude is therapeutic as it has ‘healing effects’ that come under the broader vision of positive transformational emotions. The healing effects directed towards others, such as love and tenderness, originate in interpersonal contexts and promote the closure of old wounds to alleviate the emotional suffering. Therefore, gratitude is a psychological calming therapy that everyone must practice apart from physical exercises such as yoga, aerobics, meditation, etc.
Moreover, the positive impact of gratitude has a snowball effect over time. Brain scans of people assigned the tasks of gratitude showed long-lasting changes in the prefrontal cortex that increased the sensitivity long term effects of gratitude.
Psychologically, being grateful helps you realize that more is not necessarily better and detrimental feelings of jealousy, envy, stress, depression, and competition are redundant emotions.
Aren’t you excited to start practicing gratitude? Wait, read on to know how to go about it!
What Is the Difference Between Being Thankful and Gratitude?
The meaning of gratitude revolves around the act of reciprocating help or to help a fellow human being without any expectancy of return.
In contrast, being thankful means something we were taught at a young age; to say ‘thank you’ as a good act. It can be an automatic response after receiving benefits.
The act of applying gratitude in your life changes how you think, act, and respond to all types of circumstances. Instead, being grateful isn’t dependent upon other’s kind act in the first place. Instead, it is an inner satisfaction of the blessings one is bestowed with and to share the blessings with others without any expectation of a reward.
How Do You Practice Gratitude?
- Keeping a Gratitude Journal
Karns experimented on participants by splitting them into two groups: one that journaled about the things in life they were grateful for, and the other that journaled about non gratitude-based content. The first group responded more towards altruistic acts instead of self-gain. Karns describes it as being paid with the neural currency of reward—the activation of neurotransmitters that prompt pleasure and goal attainment.
Therefore, a common practice among great leaders around the world is to keep a gratitude journal. To practice minimalism, a gratitude journal is a great way to feel content, focused and satisfied.
While keeping a gratitude journal, there are certainly more effective ways to do it as per studies. Studies show that instead of jotting down everything, you need to write in detail about one particular thing and savor it. Moreover, it’s better to focus on who you are grateful to, instead of counting on material things. Such practices elicit healthier feelings of gratefulness.
Further, writing a journal is twice as better than practicing it daily. As per Emmons, our mind adapts to positive events if we consistently highlight them.
- Writing a Gratitude Letter or Paying a Gratitude Visit
Other psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Jeffrey Froh, and Martin Seligman studied the psychology of participants who were asked to write a gratitude letter to someone they’d never thanked; and, then, visit the person to read the letter aloud in front of them, which gave them a very good feeling. As per the 2009 study by Froh, teens felt a surge of positive emotions even two months later.
Gratitude letters to someone you wanted to thank but never did is a great way to keep that feeling alive. It’s a great way to fuel the bonds of forgotten relationships and rejuvenate them. Also, it makes the person receiving the letter, that they do count and are important.
- Offer Prayers
As part of many religious traditions, daily practices such as prayers foster gratitude. Some scientific studies have shown that the effectiveness of gratitude in prayer plays a significant role in positive mental health. Thanksgiving is another tradition of feeling grateful for the blessings in life, especially people around us whom we care for deeply.
- Practice Mindfulness
As per Jack Kornfield, being mindful helps us to fully live, within the present moment. It fosters a spirit of gratitude. Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment without the slightest thought of judgment. It’s a way of connecting with your inner self and external blessings of life. It’s an organic method to tap into the higher experience of gratitude.
Health Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude promotes prosocial reciprocity and reciprocal altruism2. Ultimately, it strengthens social bonds and relationships. It also encourages a sense of spirituality due to an age-old association between religion and gratitude. Moreover, it boosts positive emotions, enhances the scope of cognitive functions and creative thinking, and facilitates stress-coping mechanism.
Scientific studies have shown that gratitude:
- Promotes happiness, optimism, and positive emotions2
- Facilitates new and everlasting social bonds16
- Greater progress towards personal goals2
- Promotes physical health17
- Reduces the frequency of aches and pains17
- Increased feelings of generosity2
- Encourages empathy and reduces agression18
- Better self- esteem19
- Improved sleep2
- Helps in recovery from loss or trauma20
- Amplified positive emotions20
Example of Gratitude
Receiving creates abundance, and so does giving. Meister Eckhart expresses it perfectly as:
“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
When the energy of receiving and giving is blocked out, there is a tremendous build-up of tension created inside you.
A simple example is when you have prepared and cooked a meal for that special person or loved one; you ask them: ‘How is it?’ In response, if they say, ‘It’s fine.’ You’d feel tired and lose interest in it. However, on the other end, if the same person appreciates your cooking, you’d want to do more without a moment of exhaustion. That’s how gratefulness works. When something is presented, if it’s received well, it creates abundance.
The Power of Gratitude
Several philosophers call gratitude as a form of virtue. Gratitude has tremendous power to protect you from stress and depression. Alongside psychological benefits, it increases life satisfaction.
All in all, practicing gratitude has endless benefits on the quality of life you are living. It has such positive energy that the more gratitude you have, and the more kindness you put out into the world, the more positive vibes are returned to you. It’s just the way it works!
For example, have you seen anyone giving away food, or money to others? This gesture of kindness propels you to follow. Positivity attracts positivity, and it multiplies in a zillion ways. It encourages others to help others around them.
Gratitude therapy is the act of reflecting upon blessings of life and savoring the little moments with great joy. It promotes greater feelings of gratitude and tones down the insatiable desires for unattainable, continually troubling the consumer society.
By practicing self-awareness and focusing on the positive, we fight the mind’s tendency to scan and spot the negatives.
We can cultivate gratitude deliberately increasing not only our overall well-being but also impacting the lives of others around us. Gratitude gives expression to human’s most basic purpose of life—to be of some good to others.
Gratitude is psychotherapy, physiotherapy, and sociotherapy that simplifies the complicated lives we are caught up in. It has the power to halt your thought processes to always live in the ‘I want’ world. Substitute the endless sea of desires with a higher purpose of spreading joy—the art of giving. What’s more? The more you give, the double or triple you will receive!
Start practicing gratitude not with a ‘conscious effort’ but with a ‘heartfelt feelings,’ and rejoice the fruits of your kindness.