When my heart is filled with gratitude, I am at peace.
Did you know gratitude makes your life better? I know, I know. We were taught as children to say please and thank you, but having good manners is simply polite. The type of gratitude I’m referring to is something quite different. Today I’m going to share some thoughts about why gratitude is important.
Let’s begin by defining the word gratitude. Here is my definition of gratitude: Gratitude is when you feel deep appreciation for someone or something.
Notice that I emphasize the word feel. I’m not talking about surface-level politeness. Feeling thankfulness is something quite different. This is an important distinction and one I don’t often see brought up when the word gratitude is being discussed.
So let’s spend a moment talking about feeling. Until recently, my knowledge of feelings was quite shallow. Because I learned as a child to hide my emotions, to stuff down my feelings, it’s been a slow process as an adult to learn how to truly feel my emotions (the “good” ones and the “bad” ones). However, learning how to feel through your emotions is a big topic best left for another day because today I want to stay focused on the topic of gratitude and how it makes you a better, happier person.
Because I am not a professional, I can only speak through my personal experience.
Feeling deep gratitude improves my mental and physical health. When I’m feeling grateful for something, it makes whatever the situation is easier, lighter, and more hopeful. It makes me feel better. And by better I mean more positive, happier.
When you’re a more positive, happier person, guess what happens? That energy can’t help but spill out of you and into the room, into the building, into the community, and into the world around you.
And just think about the impact that can have on the world. One smile, one kind word, one thoughtful gesture could turn a stranger’s day around, or give them just a sliver of hope. That hope might give them the boost they need to find warmth for another stranger. And the cycle can continue on and on and on.
When all else fails, be grateful and be kind.
Gratitude generates kindness. Kindness generates more gratitude. It’s all interconnected. And it all centers on love.
So let’s discuss when life isn’t going smoothly. It can be difficult to find gratitude during dark times. It was hard for me to find anything to be thankful for when my dad passed away three weeks before my wedding. Twelve years later, I am terribly grateful for the timing. Just two weeks after his passing, he would have been in Mexico for my wedding. Dying in Mexico would have made his passing infinitely more complicated. And it turns out, his surviving family members were so grateful for what felt like a break from the grief. We needed sunshine. We needed something to celebrate.
Another example: When my daughter was born six weeks early. When I had postpartum complications. When I had to go home at the end of a long hospital stay without my newborn as a first time mom. My grief could have consumed me, but I found myself grounded in thankfulness that though small and requiring help eating, she was going to be just fine.
It’s interesting how gratitude almost finds us. It helps us cope with the big things in life.
It’s almost harder to find gratitude in the little things. The air we effortlessly breathe. The green light when we’re ahead of schedule. The fact that every 24 hours the earth rotates around the sun by no doing of our own. A hot (or cold) cup of tea. A single piece of sandwich bread left in the bag. Flushing toilets. Hot shower. I could go on and on. The list truly is endless.
But I think it’s all meaningless unless we can really feel it. We need to feel gratitude. When we truly feel thankful, that’s when the magic happens. When you’re finding it difficult to feel anything to be grateful for, pull out your journal or a pad of paper, talk to yourself out loud while on a walk, or however you best process thoughts. And write or meditate on these:
- What do I have to be thankful for at this very moment?
- How does this make my life better?
- How would my life be different if I didn’t have this to be thankful for?
- What would I do if I didn’t have it?
- How would I feel if my loved ones didn’t have this?
- How can I feel gratitude for this at this very moment?
It’s funny because once we feel it, every part of our lives improves. Your glass is suddenly not just half full but is filling or overfilling.
And the next time you find your glass half empty, it becomes easier and easier to see it as half full. And then refilling. And then overfilling.
It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened regularly. The more you practice gratitude, the easier it becomes. And suddenly even your darkest days don’t feel so dark.
I find it very interesting how gratitude seems to expand almost effortlessly in my life now. What a blessing it is to find gratitude for my life, the things and people I’ve been given in my life, and even (maybe especially) the struggles that I’ve had to work through. Because there’s always something good, something to be gained on the other side.
So let’s talk about some practical ways to integrate gratitude into your life. As previously mentioned, you can keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you’re thankful for in it every day. But schedule it. That’s the critical part because if you don’t schedule the time for it, it will likely get lost in the busyness of your day. You could develop a practice of the first thing you do after you wake each morning is to mentally acknowledge three things you’re grateful for. Or, maybe it could become your practice to spend your shower time feeling the things you’re grateful for. Every time you fill up your glass of water, think of something you have gratitude for. Twice a week, text someone you know and tell them you’re thankful for them and why. There are endless ways to do it and how you do it really doesn’t matter as long as you can make it a regular part of your life. And remember, to not just write or think these thankful thoughts, but to really feel them.
In short, feeling gratitude blesses your life immeasurably. When you can appreciate the little things as well as the big things, life unfolds in a way that creates more meaning for you and for everyone around you. Basically, good things happen and the world becomes a better place. All because you feel grateful. I think that’s pretty damn cool! How do you practice feeling gratitude? What impact has it had in your life?