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Gratitude – A Masterful Tool

Gratitude – A Masterful Tool

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 Author: Marcia Ullett Categories: Recovery Lifestyles, Spirituality
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When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.

~Anthony Robbins

 

There’s something very special about gratitude. It can change everything in life. Why is that? Is it magic? You could say that it’s magic because of the way it can transform us – the way we think, the way we behave, and ultimately the way we feel. A regular practice of gratitude is so simple and yet it has amazing positive outcomes. So if you ask me, it’s the closest thing to magic. Small acts of gratitude can help us to develop a more expansive and positive view of our lives.

 

Gratitude can simplify life by putting things into perspective. Life sometimes has a way of throwing us into a tailspin. We get scared and confused. We feel the need to control, and often there’s just no real way to do that. So what do we do? One possibility is to step back and look at things through a longer lens. No one is born grateful. We need to learn how to develop our gratitude, how to expand it so that we’re able to increase our ability to experience it.

 

Negative emotions like jealousy and fear can’t stand up to gratitude. You know the old expression, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”? Ordinarily, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Not so when it’s pitted against gratitude. It’s pretty hard to feel anger or greed when you’re making a gratitude list or thanking someone for something wonderful they’ve done for you.

 

As a child, I never even thought about gratitude. In fact, it was never mentioned in our house. Imagine my surprise and delight when I realized the immense power and grace of having a gratitude practice. It took a while; at first I struggled with it. I remember that when I initially began to think about it, I had so many problems that I thought I had nothing to be grateful for. Was I wrong! As I began to understand how each of us has something to be grateful for, my eyes opened to a whole new way of being in this world. I even looked back at my childhood and realized that I had so much for which to be grateful when I was growing up. What I didn’t have was the knowledge that gratitude is one of the truly great tools on this planet.

 

Trust me, I know how difficult this journey through life can be. I know that sometimes it seems like struggling through mud, like there’s darkness all around and no glimpse of light anywhere. Sometimes the challenges are heavy, and we’re not sure we can cope. It is for this reason, if for no other, that gratitude can be so helpful on our journey. Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions we have. It’s like a light saber that can cut through the darkness. The thing about gratitude is that it works from time to time, but it’s more amazing as a tool when we use it regularly. What I’m talking about is a practice of gratitude. If we can get in the habit of having a regular gratitude practice, we can grasp the immense results this can bring to our lives.

 

Gratitude was not always a part of psychology. Around the year 2000, gratitude began to be studied in psychology. Prior to that, psychology was focused mostly on distress rather than taking the more positive emotions into account. Gratitude is a also facet of Positive Psychology. Studies now indicate that the expression of gratitude can increase our sense of satisfaction, happiness, and optimism. It tends to boost our mood and raise self-esteem.

 

Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, speaks of it as “an affirmation of goodness in the world,” and “a relationship-strengthening emotion.” Studies by Emmons and his colleague Michael McCullough suggest gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. Sounds good to me. And there’s more.

 

People who cultivate gratitude in their lives tend to sleep better, taking less time to fall asleep and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. When I first became aware of this I decided to meditate on all that I have to be grateful for whenever I couldn’t sleep. It really works, and I seem to wake up in a good mood.

 

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they

are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

~Marcel Proust

 

Focusing on gratitude enhances our sense of connectedness to others in our world. Being grateful for and nurturing our friendships builds more solid and deeper friendships. Paying attention to what someone has given to you and being certain to express gratitude for it benefits both of you. Likewise, being of service to someone else makes both people feel good. Being aware of the qualities we appreciate in the people we love helps to deepen the love. Surrounding ourselves with others who are grateful enriches our relationships and our lives.

When I became conscious of what a happy and warm feeling I get when someone takes the time to appreciate something I’ve done – however small that thing is – I realized that I could give that same feeling to others, just by telling them how grateful I am for what they have done. Being of service to others and appreciating the service of others is now a regular part of my gratitude practice.

Challenging situations also can provide us with moments of gratitude. We get to be grateful for what we can learn from them. We get to be grateful for the fact that they will pass, especially if we remember all that we have to celebrate in our lives every day, not just when things are going well. In fact, in his article entitled “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times”, Dr. Emmons talks about how crisis can lead us to greater gratitude, and gratitude can help us cope with crisis. He suggests that we remember the bad times, the times when we experienced trauma, lost a relationship, or experienced financial difficulties. Remembering those times reminds us that we can be grateful for having got through them. They were tough, but here we are – remembering them from where we are now.

The important thing about gratitude is that it’s best if we live within it, not just dabbling in it from time to time. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is my personal favorite way to stay in gratitude. Another way is to sit quietly, thinking about each and every part of our lives that makes us feel grateful. If ever you are stuck and having difficulty feeling it, act as if you’re grateful, and your thoughts and feelings will eventually follow. This behavioral approach not only helps us to reframe our thoughts and feelings but also teaches us a personal tool that we can use whenever we need it, building our feelings of gratitude the more we use it. Practicing gratitude regularly helps change the way our brain neurons fire in more positive patterns.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark

from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep

gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. 

 ~Albert Schweitzer

 

The more we think about what we’re grateful for and let the people in our lives know how much we appreciate them and how truly grateful we are for having them in our lives the more we get to let them know that they make a difference to us. This powerful little tool is like magic. It’s so easy to do, and its consequences are so far reaching.

The question then arises: If it’s so terrific and life-changing, why don’t more people practice gratitude? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in our culture, which has become so materialistic. Dr. Emmons again: “Seen through the lens of buying and selling, relationships as well as things are viewed as disposable, and gratitude cannot survive this materialistic onslaught. The lack of gratitude is contagious, and is passed from one generation to the next.”

 

This, however, doesn’t mean that gratitude isn’t powerful enough to work in our society. I believe it is and that the more we talk about it, practice it, and pass it on from one generation to the next, the greater the impact will be. However, it will take time. We need to ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?”

 

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