I’ve always thought it was both interesting and liberating that we have so much control over our own well-being. How we see the world and how we view our circumstances often determines the degree to which we’ll enjoy life.
I’ve known people who have gone through harrowing circumstances or gotten by on minimal means, yet they lead lives of joy, uplifting others everywhere they go. I’ve also known people who are blessed by common standards — good health, great financial wealth — and they are terse, discontent and sometimes downright miserable. One of the most significant differences between these two kinds of people is gratitude.
As I explain in my latest book, Entitlement Abolition, gratitude is an empowering demonstration of an abundance mentality — the concept that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody, and the only mentality that leads to happiness.
Science backs this up. According to a 2009 study published in the Cerebral Cortex journal, showing gratitude or generosity stimulates the hypothalamus (the portion of the brain that manages stress) and the ventral tegmental area (the portion of the brain that produces the sensation of pleasure).
Furthermore, in a 2003 study researchers broke participants into two groups — one group assigned with the task of keeping a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while the other group listed inconveniences or everyday events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly higher life satisfaction than the other.
While a gratitude journal is an excellent way to show “chronic gratitude,” another beneficial exercise I use is a gratitude checklist. Once a month my wife Sharee and I volunteer to mentor youth at detention centers, boys’ and girls’ group homes and residential crisis centers to help young people learn responsibility, accountability and envision a brighter future.
During Thanksgiving week after a special dinner, we engage in the classic go-around-the-room-and-say-what-we-are-grateful-for tradition with the group, but we go a bit deeper. (See my article on what I call the Gratitude Amplifier.) Several respond by saying they can’t think of anything to be thankful for. This is when we encourage them to go through the gratitude checklist: “Consider how and why you might grateful for each of these”:
• A living person
• Person who has died
• A physical ability
• Material possession
• Something in nature
• A place on earth
• Modern-day invention
• A particular food
• Your home or place of abode
• God, the universe, or a higher power
This activity reminds the youth of blessings and helps shift their perspective. No matter how small the advantage, it’s important to express gratitude. And more importantly, to give thanks especially when you don’t feel it — because there is always someone that longs for the thing you take for granted daily. This self-awareness is crucial in abolishing entitlement.
For years, we have used the checklist with our own family around the Thanksgiving table, and it’s always the highlight of the season.
Whether it’s in our society or within our families, we must do everything we can to cultivate gratitude and abundance over scarcity and entitlement. We must reinforce appreciation rather than envy. And we must appreciate what we have — and even don’t have, recognizing that it’s all for our learning and experience. As we do, we’ll live life more fully and enjoy the journey more.
Call To Action
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Originally published at medium.com