Gratitude is good for the body, mind and soul
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others,” wrote Roman philosopher Cicero. “Nothing is more honourable than a grateful heart,” Roman senator Seneca was quoted as saying.
Most religions encourage gratitude. In Buddhism for example, gratitude is said to be a hallmark of humanity.
“When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude”, wrote Elie Wiesel.
In fact, the spiritual practice of gratitude has been called “a state of mind” and “a way of life”. Showing gratitude, however, is more than just a spiritual practice. Gratitude is a feeling that nurtures the soul.
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom”, wrote Marcel Proust, the greatest French novelist of the 20th century.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie, American author of self-help and recovery books
Why it’s important
Gratitude is important for one’s well-being, said Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, who has studied and documented the thoughts of philosophers, theologians, and writers on the age-old process of giving thanks.
If you are grateful for all positive things that you see around yourself, you will undoubtedly have a fulfiling and happy day. In fact, it is written that gratitude is the best medicine for depression, self-pity and fear.
Gratitude is actually a form of love. When we feel gratitude for another, we begin to harmonise with that person and the bond within that relationship becomes stronger.
In To Give Is to Receive, Roger Walsh, M.D. Ph.D. wrote, “Gratitude bestows many benefits. It dissolves negative feelings: anger and jealousy melt in its embrace, fear and defensiveness shrink.
“Gratitude deflates the barriers to love. While forgiveness heals the heart of old hurts, gratitude opens it to present love.”
“Gratitude helps you grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of those around you”, wrote Eileen Caddy.
The Hausa of Nigeria believe that if you give thanks for a little, you will find a lot. Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life.
“A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things.” — Plato, famous Greek philosopher
What is gratitude?
To be grateful, in the true sense of the word, is to be modest. In Hebrew, the word for gratitude, hoda’ah, is the same as the word for confession. To be grateful, or to offer thanks, is to confess dependence, to acknowledge that others have the power to benefit you, to admit that your life is better because of their efforts.
“Gratitude is a virtue that helps us remember the obligations and responsibilities we owe others in return for the gifts we have received,” says William J. Bennett, former US Secretary of Education.
“Gratitude is the memory of the heart”, goes a saying.
Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast shares, “Gratitude is more than a feeling, a virtue, or an experience; gratitude emerges as an attitude we can freely choose in order to create a better life for ourselves and for others.”
“Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbours build their philosophy of life.” — A.J. Cronin, Scottish novelist
Live, not just show, gratitude
Expressing our gratitude to someone directly is a wonderful way to give back. People love to hear that what they did was appreciated.
But as you express your gratitude, don’t forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
Well-known professor of art history and respected theologian Johannes A. Gaertner said, “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch heaven.”
Many people today complain that they are not tall, slim, handsome or pretty enough, their job stinks, the weather is foul, their family demands are a chore ... they wish they were richer, fairer, handsomer, luckier ...
Often instead of rejoicing in what we have, we yearn for something more, better, or different. We can’t be grateful because we are making comparisons with others. As a result, we become unhappy.
99% of the time we have an opportunity to be grateful for something. We just don’t notice it. We go through our days in a daze.
Cultivating gratitude begins with cultivating thankfulness for your lot in life — ie living it in your daily life. Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. While gratitude is shown in acts, thankfulness consists of words.
“Gratitude expresses itself in a sincere thank you ... not for the gifts of this day only, but for the day itself; not for what we believe will be ours in the future, but for the bounty of the past,” says novelist Faith Baldwin.
“There is calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy” — Ralph H. Blum, American author
See the rainbow in adversities
While it is easy to be thankful for the good things, a life of rich fulfilment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.
Life’s difficulties are something we can actually be thankful for because gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. “Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings”, goes a saying.
We should thus be thankful even if we have problems. If you are going through a tough time, you can be grateful for the lessons you are learning, the strength you are gaining and the compassion you find for others going through a rough spell.
Difficult times and difficult people can be our best teachers. When we are open, they teach us to find peace and harmony within, they build our strength and compassion.
When things get really tough, if we want to keep our mental health intact, they can even force us to live in the present moment.
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” — Charles Dickens, famous author of classical English literature
Count your blessings
Being grateful means taking nothing for granted. Our life, health, friends, society, our job, the food we eat, and our very body with its fingers, muscles, senses and internal organs are gifts which we often take for granted.
In How To Want What You Have, Timothy Miller wrote, “Gratitude is the intention to count your blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding, whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances.”
Stoic philosopher of the 1st century Epictetus said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
“They are not poor that have little, but they that desire much. The richest man, whatever his lot, is the one who’s content with his lot”, goes a Dutch proverb.
If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can’t buy — like your life, or your family.
The wise man who penned, “I once cried when I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet” knew the wisdom of this.
“To know you have enough is to be rich”, taught Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, in Tao Te Ching.
Shakespeare agrees. “Poor and content is rich and rich enough.”
“Thank God — every morning when you get up — that you have something to do which must be done, whether you like it or not. Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you a hundred virtues which the idle never know.” — Charles Kingsley, Church of England parson
Find out more about mental health and well being in the CAP Guide, Emotional Fitness
Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components, which he describes in a Greater Good essay, “Why Gratitude Is Good.”
“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
Emmons and other researchers see the social dimension as being especially important to gratitude. “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion,“ writes Emmons, “because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Because gratitude encourages us not only to appreciate gifts but to repay them (or pay them forward), the sociologist Georg Simmel called it “the moral memory of mankind.” This is how gratitude may have evolved: by strengthening bonds between members of the same species who mutually helped each other out.
To investigate how gratitude relates to bonding and empathy, pioneering research is exploring what gratitude looks likein the brain.
For more: Learn about the GGSC’s Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude project, co-directed by Emmons.