“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” – Amy Collette
Life offers many opportunities for us to be grateful. It may not be immediately evident, whether that is because we aren’t entirely familiar with how to practice gratitude or because we are too distracted by what we perceive as the negatives in life, it is always there. And gratefulness is a core trait that allows us to be more emotionally-rounded as people.
What Does Gratefulness Mean?
Gratefulness is defined as ‘appreciative of benefits received’. But when we think about gratefulness, it is not so much about a trigger, but the end result of an emotion-based process.
Gratefulness goes hand-in-hand with gratitude. Both deal with the idea of feeling grateful to somebody else for something that they have done for us. But gratefulness is perhaps a more individualistic process. Imagine if you are struggling through a bout of depression, you find yourself trying to fend off a black mood and find yourself unable to muster the mental or physical energy needed to fend it off. But then a loved one in your life may take note of your predicament and take steps to help you through. Perhaps they will run you a hot bath, or bring you a box of your favourite chocolates, or switch on the television to a programme you like. These are triggers for pleasure and give you a sense of relief, thereby making it easier for you to relax and putting you in a more tranquil headspace. And gratefulness kicks in when you feel the emotional relish of those benefits, finding a positive anchor to remind you of some of the good things in life. Gratitude takes centre stage when you show appreciation to the individual who helped to bring about those positive feelings.
Now for some people, gratefulness is not something that comes naturally to us. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t feel grateful to other people. There have been numerous studies carried that suggest that our capacity for showing gratefulness is based on the way our brains work. For example, psychologists Jo-Anna Tsung, Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons produced a 2002 study which showed that people who had low tendencies towards materialism and envy were more inclined to exhibit gratefulness because they were grateful for what they had while materialistic people found it harder to be grateful for the existing things in their lives, therefore happiness was harder to come by. A similar pattern was found in a 2017 study by Rebecca Solem and Phil Watkins, which showed that students with high levels of materialism and narcissism were less pre-disposed to gratefulness.
In a way, gratefulness is a lot like a muscle; it needs to be exercised daily in order to make any progress. And these are some of the many ways you can bring gratefulness into your life, living more heartful.
How to Show Gratefulness
Gratefulness does not have to always be about grandiose gestures. Much of the time, it’s about the small things we do in our everyday lives, but wouldn’t always occur to us to do all the time. But in doing so,
Active Listening – When people are speaking to us, we aren’t always the most attentive listeners. Sometimes, we will often have a stock of phrases to reel off to give off the illusion of listening, such as ‘uh huh’, ‘yes’, ‘OK’. But show that you are actually listening to the conversation and you are engaged with what the other person is saying. In turn, they will be grateful that you are taking an active interest in them and lead to both of you feeling emotionally enriched.
Show Support and Appreciation for Others – Everyone in life has their own set of struggles. And sometimes they can be overwhelming. Perhaps it is a friend who is going through a rough patch or an employee trying to juggle their work-life balance. For colleagues, offer to help them with their workload. It doesn’t have to be someone you know. For example, if you’re in a coffee shop, leave a generous tip for the waiter serving you. This is important because while gratefulness is a universal concept, the specific ways in which it is carried out strengthen your bonds with other people. If you were to do something nice for a friend or family member, it is a sign you have taken the time to do something that you know they will personally appreciate. A universal concept filtered through a specific action leading to a stronger bond and ultimately, an emotionally healthier way of living. All it takes is a rise to compassion.
Taking Onboard Contrasting Opinions – We’re not going to agree on every topic because people are radically different. But that isn’t to say that the people in our lives don’t have an opinion that isn’t valid, whether this is a parent or family member giving you life advice, an employer giving you constructive criticism, or a friend giving you a different point of view. But contrasting opinions enhance our understanding of the world and how to get by in it. Try and practice going about life based on the views they have shown and if you feel you have benefited from it, make sure you thank them and let them know how they have helped change your mindset for the better.
Handwritten Notes – We live in a world of texting and typing to the point that handwriting has all, but been left behind. But there is a certain emotional resonance that comes with handwriting, the thought that goes into writing each word, as though people are putting a piece of themselves onto paper. Interestingly, children seem to have this concept down to a tee. You think of children at school who have been helped along the way by a passionate teacher and they take the time to write a ‘thank you’ letter or paint a picture as a way of showing they are grateful. For many teachers, this can have a positive impact on them mentally, to know that they have made such a positive impact on a child’s life and to have it expressed to them in a heartfelt sentiment. Handwritten message demonstrate a care and love that go hand in hand with gratitude.
Show Gratitude to Yourself – You are your own biggest passenger on the journey of life. And you need to be able to be thankful for yourself, something you’ve done or a trait. If there is a certain skill that you are proud of – such as cooking or painting – try and find the time to practice it every day, honing it and providing yourself with something you can take pride in and be grateful for. There are validation purposes behind this mindset, demonstrating that you know your own value as a person and what you bring to the world, which will see you through the times when you are plagued with self-doubt and self-consciousness.
Why is Gratefulness Good for Mental Health?
For many people, mental health is constantly in flux. More than 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, many of which are left feeling like their life is a black pit from which there is no way out or forward. And sometimes, the sense of despair can be so overwhelming that we find ourselves losing sight of the good things in our lives.
In 2017, psychologists Joshua Brown and Joel Wong published an article in Greater Good Magazine speaking about their research into the relationship between gratitude and gratefulness, more specifically, individuals who struggled with long-term poor mental health. Their study looked at nearly 300 college students who were seeking mental health counselling for depression and anxiety-related disorders. They found that the group who practised writing gratitude letters reported improved mental health weeks after the conclusion of the study.
Cheryl Crowe, the Director of Behavioural Health for OSF HealthCare stated that gratitude can help to put us in a positive state and build resilience as a tool to keep us focused on the good things in true life.
When it comes to the spiritual benefits of gratefulness, they are in abundance; research has demonstrated that we sleep better, we have a greater immunity to stress and we are able to embrace the joys of life. But as written in The Art of Manliness’ series, The Spiritual Disciplines: Gratitude, it is not an experience, but an expression. And only by going out and finding the opportunities to express our gratitude for people, our surroundings and life itself, are we able to attain those spiritual benefits.
Grateful living may be something that takes times to come by. But once you attain that sense of gratefulness, you will feel life and all of its infinite possibilities open up to you.