By Dr. Perry, PhD
“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
I have been told by more than one patient that the word “gratitude” has become very cliche. They are constantly being told to be grateful as if it is a fix all to their problems. While it may not magically do away with our problems, gratitude has been shown to have a beneficial effect in anyone’s life.
So what is gratitude and is it really such a great thing to have?
One of the best definitions I have found is as follows, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful and a readiness to show appreciation for and to return the kindness.” This is a powerful definition which contains both a thankful state as well as giving back. It is a full circle of thankfulness for what is received and the giving back of this positive emotion to others.
As a society, we must resist living with a sense of entitlement and focus on being present and truly thankful for our lives. In turn, this feeling of gratitude can then spill over into other parts of our lives and have a positive ripple effect on the lives of those around us.
Being told to feel or express gratitude is great advice and definitely is not an overrated virtue. It is a practice that should be practiced daily. Research has shown that the following benefits are associated with feelings of gratitude.
1. Promotes better sleep
Studies have shown that individuals who are grateful have better sleep. By focusing on pleasant thoughts before you go to sleep you will have an easier time falling and staying asleep. I often suggest keeping a bedside gratitude journal to write in or going through a mental checklist of the day before bed. If you take the time to focus on the goodness of the day and express your gratitude you can begin to ignore and eventually not focus on anything negative that might have occurred during the day.
2. Promotes an overall sense of well-being and optimism
Individuals who are more grateful are more agreeable, open-minded and more satisfied with life. One study showed that after 10 weeks, people who focused on gratitude in their lives were significantly more optimistic in other areas of their lives. It appears that focusing on being grateful has a positive ripple effect in other areas of a person’s life including reduced levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
3. Strengthens interpersonal relationships
Gratitude allows a person to be more willing to forgive others as well as to be less selfish and egocentric. Being thankful for others helps strengthen interpersonal bonds and helps maintain healthier relationships. Gratitude helps a person build more positive social connections and helps to create a social circle of positivity. By helping someone else you might begin a chain reaction of gratitude towards you or another person. Be the catalyst that motivates others to spread kindness.
I have immense gratitude for my life and every day I make it a point to reflect on both the positives and negatives that may be occurring. Remember, it is not enough just to feel thankful. By definition, gratitude means to feel thankful and reciprocate through positive action. Life is a balance of these two forces and both are equally important in shaping us. Set the intention to express your gratitude daily and begin creating a social circle based on thankfulness. Begin with your loved one. Take a moment to write down all of the things you are thankful for in your partner. Find some time where you will not be interrupted and read your gratitude letter and really express how grateful you are to have them in your life. This is a great bonding exercise that will reinforce your bond and remind you how much you truly have for which to be grateful.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What are your thoughts on this idea that the term gratitude has become cliche? How did this post resonate with you? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
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