Practicing gratitude

Practicing gratitude is about accepting and appreciating all circumstances of life. It is a mindset: being able to take in the bad with the good.

Life’s ups and downs can catch you by surprise, and while it may be easy to be thankful for every good thing that comes your way, practicing gratitude for bad things as well may be very close to impossible.

This is why being grateful is a conscious effort. It’s not something that comes naturally. You must, in effect, make an effort to attain this positive mindset. 

But why is ‘practicing gratitude’ so important?

Practicing gratitude is probably the best antidote for mental wellness. In fact, research strongly links gratitude with happiness and well-being. People who practice gratitude as a daily habit tend to be a lot happier. On the other hand, people that tend to dwell on their shortcomings are usually depressed more often.

But how can anyone possibly master the art of practicing gratitude when some events or situations can be very painful?

How can you give thanks for something that hurts, when you’re so far from accepting it?

And let’s face the facts, sometimes life just has many more downs than ups.

But it’s not about feeling happy over all the bad that life brings us. This would be denying the true emotion. It’s about looking at the issue as a whole and eventually learning to look at the positive side of every negative situation or event.

For instance: did you just get fired?

Maybe it’s time to focus on that project you’ve always dreamed of doing. Or perhaps it’s a great opportunity to evaluate how you can grow from this experience.

The idea is to develop gratitude as an attitude towards life; it makes life a lot more bearable. It leads you straight to success. This is why:

Practicing gratitude is a way of life.

It’s about perspective. It’s about feeling content about all of life’s positive or negative outcomes.

In fact, if you think about it, for every positive outcome there’s a negative side —and vice-versa. Like two sides of a coin. If there’s someone you love, you also have to accept the things you don’t like from them. Or accept that you could eventually lose this love someday. It’s about accepting that if you are happy today, you may not be tomorrow. 

Nothing in life is permanent. Accepting impermance gives you the freedom to accept things as they are. This idea comes from ancient Buddhist teachings. It states that we cannot have pleasure without pain. For everything that ends, there is a new beginning.

“Impermanence is meeting and parting. It’s falling in love and falling out of love. Impermanence is bittersweet, like buying a new shirt and years later finding it as part of a patchwork quilt.”

Pema Chödrön
five stages of grief

Being unaccepting of the natural order of things makes you suffer greatly. Think about the five stages of grief, established by Kübler-Ross. In order to overcome loss, we undergo denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. It is only at the final stage, acceptance, that we are finally at peace. What if you conditioned your mind to be accepting of all situations? Wouldn’t that make you more resilient and emotionally stable? It’s quite simple:

Embrace acceptance. 

Understand your situation, process your emotions, embrace acceptance, and then find reasons to be thankful of the experience.

According to Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on the topic, practicing gratitude blocks emotions such as envy, resentment, and regret, which are emotions that can destroy your happiness. On the other hand, practicing gratitude makes you generous, compassionate, and forgiving, which are emotions that lead to happiness.

Studies within neurosciences also indicate that having positive emotions activate dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters. These are the NTs known to be the “happy chemicals” of the brain.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering isn’t.

Whenever you are feeling discontent over specific situations in your life, try to externalize these negative thoughts, and just listen to them. What do they have to say?

This is how the ‘ungrateful voice’ sounds like:

Nothing pleases this voice. She can be very judge-y. She is very unaccepting of absolutely any outcome because she is always curious about what’s on the other door. She can be very mean, and very critical. She’s also very punishing. She may resent some of your decisions. It comes to a point where being with her can be very tough. She’s resentful, ungrateful, and unaccepting. She is definitely full of anger.

ungrateful voice

If you listen to this voice long enough you’ll start to compare yourself with others. You’ll always focus on the grass on the other side —and it will always be greener. This is how envy comes to be. But envy is a secondary emotion; it comes from not being grateful for the things life has offered you.

“You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re incompatible feelings. If you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t. Those are very different ways of relating to the world, and sure enough, my research conducted with McCullough and Tsang suggests that people who have high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.”

Robert emmons

How can you quiet the ‘ungrateful voice’?

practicing gratitude

This voice can be very stubborn. It’s as if it has a mind of its own! The good news is that you can beat it. You just need consistency. And a mental trick that will kick these negative thoughts out of your head for good:

Whenever a negative thought comes, think, “Can I change this situation or event? No. Then it’s time to accept it. And give thanks.”

Say, “I accept it. And I am thankful for the experience.” Even if you don’t mean it much, whenever your mind is about to attack you with an idea, tell your mind, “I accept it and I am thankful for it.” This is how with time, you train your mind to accept and appreciate things as they are. 

Imagine you’ve just lost a very important relationship. It’s ok to feel all stages of grief, but eventually, to overcome this loss, you must reach acceptance.

Healthy thoughts would be, “It hurts losing my dear friend. I miss her, and it hurts. But, I am accepting of losing this very important friendship. Because right now we are following different paths. I am, however, very thankful for what this relationship represented in my life as well as everything I learned from it.”

Let yourself time to grieve, until you reach acceptance.

On another note, 

In order to attain a “gratitude mindset” you must start at the very beginning.

In his story, Where Are the Coins, Joan Garriga Bacardí talks about the importance of accepting and feeling gratitude from your first social group—your parents.

According to this story, you must accept the “coins” provided by them. In this story, “the coins” represent everything your parents have given you. It can be the way they raised you or your current interaction with them.

It doesn’t matter if these “coins” are what you wanted from them. If they’re silver instead of gold, or if they’re a lot less than expected. It’s about feeling acceptance and gratitude towards what life has given you. If you don’t feel gratitude from your first place of origin, you’ll spend the rest of your life looking for ways to fill up that void. 

At the same time, if you learn to feel grateful for what life has given you from the very beginning, which is your parents, what does that tell us of how you’ll perceive everything else that life provides? 

If your life has many challenges, then this is actually a blessing and reason to be thankful. 

Easier said than done, right?

But if you didn’t have challenges, or bad things happen to you, then where would you get your inspiration, your creativity, or your resilience? Because for every bad, there is some good: emotional pain can make you grow. But it does take time to see it this way. To become thankful. But with time you can get there.

All that said, being able to attain a grateful mindset takes time and effort. It’s all about conditioning your mind to grasp the circumstances of life a certain way. Just keep in mind these steps for practicing gratitude:

  1. Accept things as they are.
  2. Give thanks for them.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

Repetition is key: practice does make perfect. So keep practicing gratitude. Because positivity only brings more positivity into your life. When you accept people, events, and situations as they are, things flow. So always train your mind to see the good in everything, because what you feel, you’ll end up receiving.

By changing the perspective of your life and what you have, the universe will become abundant.

Oprah

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Article by Sarah Peláez


How to reference this article

Pelaez.S (2020). The Wonders of Practicing Gratitude PsycheSpot https://www.psychespot.com/emotional-awareness/the-wonders-of-practicing-gratitude

APA style references

Chodron, P. (2000). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Shambhala Publications.

Emmons, R. (2010). Why gratitude is good. Retrieved 14 November 2020, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good

Garriga, J. (2009). Where are the coins? (1st ed.). Sao Paulo: Sim a Vida.

Images by ijmaki from Pixabay