Having gratitude is one of the most valuable mindsets we can have.
Chances are, there are at least a few things in your life that you’re thankful for, things that are keeping your head above water or are giving you some measure of happiness.
And yet, sometimes, we can be so ungrateful and miserable in a way that can ruin our day.
Why? Maintaining that sense of gratitude and verbalizing it whenever you can keep you centered in your reality and happier overall.
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- The Art of Intentional Thinking: Master Your Mindset. Control and Choose Your Thoughts. Create Mental Habits to Fulfill Your Potential (Second Edition) By Peter Hollins
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I knew someone a while ago who went through an unexpected, prolonged period of extreme depression.
Several things in their life seemed to be imploding at the same time: the end of a long-term relationship (and their ex almost immediately starting a new one), the loss of a job, having to move to a completely new apartment with almost no furnishings, and a general withdrawal from almost all social contact.
This person went total recluse one time after the holidays.
They didn’t go out to the places we used to meet up, and they made no attempt at communication—they just went off the grid completely for about three months.
No one knew how they were doing.
Some of us thought we’d never see them again.
Then they just showed up again at the café we hung out at.
No warning, no notice, just back in the fray.
And they seemed a lot more at peace than we’d ever seen them before.
Within a month from that time frame, it was as if they’d become a completely different person.
A few years after, I reminded them about that time and asked how they’d gone from such a painfully dark place to a substantially better one in a relatively brief time.
“Two things,” they said.
“First, I took a hard look at why I’d had so many failures happening and why I’d taken them so personally.
I realized the problem was that I went into everything with a certain expectation.
And I mean everything: jobs, relationships, friendships, socializing—I did everything with some kind of motive.
Whether I said it or not, I demanded something back.
I realized that was a pretty ineffective and selfish way to conduct one’s life.
“The next thing was that I decided to just stop doing that and that I’d consciously try—just for a little bit of time—to be more generous with my friendships, more positive about them, and try to get outside my selfish bubble and actually try to help people, with no expectations that I’d get anything in return.
I needed to be positive and steer things toward an optimistic outcome.
That was my game plan.
“I figured I’d try it for a couple of weeks, maybe a month.
But it worked so well that I couldn’t stop.
Didn’t want to.” Gratitude is not easy when we’re in a bad place.
When we don’t have what we think we want, the last thing we want to do or hear is “be thankful for what you already have.” At best, it’s useless advice; at worst, we might even take it as an insult.
That said—be thankful for what you’ve got, because it is impossible to feel simultaneously negative and grateful.
Wouldn’t it be nice to approach the world from a positive and happy perspective by default? We often forget that we control our own feelings and that being angry or being grateful is nothing more than a selection—you can choose which one you want to be.
Create Perspective The right perspective on gratitude benefits the mindset because it instills positivity as a regular approach.
That gives you the energy to change and affect situations in a way negativity cannot.
The advantages of being grateful are real and unambiguous—they’re even backed up by science.
Gratitude makes us happier.
Gratitude, simply put, begets more gratitude, which in turn generates more joy.
A study conducted by the University of Miami and UC Davis showed that keeping a five-minute “gratitude journal” can boost your happiness by 10%.
The general idea is that expressions of gratitude trigger “feedback loops” of more gratitude.
Just by unexpectedly thanking someone or merely making a mental note of gratitude, the benefits could start immediately.
You just have to make the first move and your brain will do the rest.
For example, if you expressed gratitude to a friend simply for being a positive influence in your life, it would generate more gratitude—especially if your friend responds positively and might be influenced to “pay it forward,” creating more pods of happiness in their own life.
You might even just decide to compare what you currently have to your equivalent from a war-torn country, and you’ll suddenly gain perspective on your life.
Gratitude makes people like us.
In 2006, researchers Emily L. Polak and Michael E. McCullough found that people who were 10% “more grateful” than average had 17.5% more “social capital.” This increased sociability bettered their opinions about their immediate surroundings and also helped other people accumulate more social capital as well.
I’ve experienced this firsthand—when I’ve expressed gratitude for a mere friendship or someone’s returned the compliment, it almost always results in a tighter and more meaningful circle of friends.
When you extend small, unexpected favors—like a thank-you note, a personal gift, or some other means of expressing gratitude for someone being in your life—people naturally consider you a friendly person.
Gratitude makes us happier.
A 2005 study from American Psychologist found that just one single act of gratitude—even just feeling or expressing it—resulted in a 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in symptoms of depression.
Further, people who wrote down three good things that had happened to them in their day every night for a week showed more sustainable positive impact—even weeks after they’d stopped journaling.
Gratitude makes us more optimistic.
In the same Miami–UC Davis study mentioned above, participants who kept a weekly gratitude journal also exhibited a 5% increase in optimism.
People who kept a daily gratitude journal showed a 15% increase.
Optimistic people were almost biologically programmed to focus on the positive aspects of life, whether it’s being thankful, laughing, showing kindness, or forgiving.
Gratitude is an almost self-generating form of hopefulness.
Gratitude makes you friendlier.
A study from Southern Methodist University, UC Davis, and the National Institute for Healthcare Research determined that gratitude promoted pro-social behavior.
Participants who kept a gratitude journal were more likely to help other people with their issues and were more relied upon for positive emotional support.
Just as gratitude can increase your social reach, as seen above, it also makes your communal circle stronger.
This gratitude sounds like a pretty fantastic product.
How can we consciously promote a feeling of gratitude more often in our lives? The website Unstuck.com offered a few suggestions in this direction.
Notice your daily world from the standpoint of gratitude and allow yourself to be astonished by all the kindness and abundance we take for granted—whether it’s appreciating a nice-weather day, the friendships you have, or the fact that you can buy a candy bar at a convenience store.
And of course, if all else fails, compare your status quo with that of someone in far less fortunate circumstances than yours.
Maintain a gratitude journal, as some of the above studies suggest.
All you need to do is make a note of a couple of things you’re thankful for on a daily basis, whether it’s online, on a notebook, or on paper.
You can write in it daily or weekly, and it doesn’t have to be a long narrative—just five or so simple, short phrases about what you appreciate.
Compliment someone at least once every day.
This can be direct praise to someone or just your general appreciation of something positive (“I love how quiet it is in the morning,” “I love the smell of the air after it rains,” etc.).
Positive reinforcement and affirmation always make one feel better, whether they’re generating or receiving it.
You’ll feel great from doing it and be motivated to continue.
When you’re in a bad situation, ask yourself what you can learn from it.
Accept and own your feelings about it, but try to pivot from self-blame or despair by realizing you’ve absorbed a life lesson.
It’s not only a failure or setback; it’s an opportunity for learning.
In the future, when you look back on this moment without too much emotion, ask what you’ll be grateful for.
If you’ve recently ended a bad relationship, lost a job, or received some form of rejection, try to separate yourself at some point and answer what it’s taught you about how life works.
Make a commitment not to complain, criticize, or gossip for just one week.
If you stumble a bit, just marshal your forces and keep going forward.
Don’t feel like one misstep will throw you off completely.
Observe how much energy you were wasting on negativity and discouraging thoughts.
Chances are, a good portion of your daily conversations are devoted to complaining, ranting, or raving.
Our brains actually adapt to repeated negative talk and make it harder to see what you should be grateful for.
You can measure your current mindset by how hard it is to keep yourself from engaging in destructive speech.