When Looking for Happiness, Find Gratitude

By Laura Greenstein | Sep. 23, 2016

While it may seem like an unnecessary practice, gratitude promotes positive well-being in a surprisingly large amount of ways. And it’s as simple as consciously thinking about and recording what you have in your life that you appreciate.

“You should be grateful” is probably something we’ve all heard from one source or another. But honestly, why? What is the point of thanking the universe for what we have? Is there anything to gain other than trying to make ourselves feel better about what we don’t have?

The simple answer to these questions is yes, there is a lot to gain from being grateful. Here are just a few of the major benefits:

Connect with Others

Gratitude has the ability to strengthen and improve relationships as well as promote new connections. Research shows those who practice gratitude are more likely to offer emotional support and assistance, share their possessions with others and forgive more willingly. Consequently, grateful people are rated as more helpful and more generous by their social networks than those who are relatively less grateful.

It’s natural to feel more connected to someone who shows you they appreciate your presence in their life; it’s a positive reciprocation that fosters healthy connections.

Lessen Depression, Anxiety and Substance Abuse

A large study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University showed that thankfulness predicted a significantly lower risk of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence and drug abuse.

In addition, studies show that psychological well-being directly associated with human potential and growth (or “eudemonic” well-being) has been linked to gratitude. Those who experience low eudemonic well-being are over seven times more likely to be diagnosed with depression later in life. So essentially, gratitude helps us reach our goals and has the ability to build resilience to depression.

Improve Self-Esteem

Gratitude helps people focus less on social comparison—those who practice are less likely to be envious of others and less likely to judge their own success in relation to the success of others.  When you compare yourself to others rather than appreciate what you have, you’re not only expending more energy, but your self-esteem is left to hang in the balance of who’s better.

The results of a study that compared gratitude to social comparison showed that practicing gratitude promoted higher alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.

Luckily for us, gratitude is an easy practice to pick up. Start by writing down the simple things you’re grateful for:

  • I’m thankful for my senses. That I have the ability to see mountains, hear music, smell baked goods, etc.
  • I’m thankful for the person in my life who’s always there for me.
  • I’m thankful I woke up today.
  • I’m thankful for my freedom.

The list could easily turn into a novel. If you say “I have nothing to be grateful for,” try thinking about all of the small things you have. It’s easy for humans to take our abilities and privileges for granted. Take the time to notice these things and be thankful you have them. And remember, there is almost always something you have that someone else doesn’t.

Practicing gratitude is an easy habit with too many benefits to ignore. Try it for a week and see if it makes a difference in your life.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie

Comments
Mary
I believe gratitude has nothing to do with station in life or circumstances. There is so much in the world to enjoy--especially in the natural world, which is available to all. I remember the photo of the flower growing out of an rocky area. There is so much beauty, if one will look for it. I was feeling depressed and isolated, one day, while waiting for transportation to arrive. Watching birds, just acting like birds, was a "touch of heaven". Also, I can do what I can, to show love to and help others. I can be a source of healing, by showing love, and reaching out, in very simple ways. I can contact political officials, making my will known. I can be involved and/or support organizations that help people. I can believe in people and their dignity and ability to help themselves, and support them, as needed, in this task. While there is life, there is hope. I want to support this hope, even if it is "only" by offering a smile, or a seat by me, on the bus. We can each do our part. For that, I am grateful.
12/25/2016 3:35:16 PM

Sebastian
Laura,

This was a great article which was recently recommended to me. A couple days ago, I experienced that feeling one could experience through practicing gratefulness. On one of my daily commutes back to my home from school, I returned physically and emotionally drained. While en route, I became aware of how my feelings were affected and knew this could eventually snowball into something bigger. By the time I got home, I believe as a result of being mindful of my feelings and practicing gratefulness, I contributed to the headings you mentioned above.

Thanks for this,

Sebastian
9/30/2016 7:28:53 PM

Nancy Butler
I totally agree with this blog. We all have many things to be grateful for and an attitude of gratitude will bring more things to be grateful for. It is the law of attraction which can not be denied. I urge anyone to try this for a week and I will promise you that you will feel better about your life in every way!
9/30/2016 1:54:53 PM

Renny
As a white middle-class American woman, I can relate to this. However, gratitude is easy for white middle-class, and wealthy people of any ethnicity. But what about the millions of people on this planet who are poverty-stricken; starving; homeless; running for their lives from the effects of global warming, ethnic cleansing, class wars, and/or socio-political tyranny; being gunned down by police or military or killed by religious zealots, in racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist societies. Not so easy for those millions to be grateful.
9/27/2016 12:34:06 AM

Carol Gordon Ekster
I too believe in the power of gratitude. Families with young children can start a gratitude habit by reading my children's book, BEFORE I SLEEP: I SAY THANK YOU, Pauline Books and Media, 2015. It offers a kid-friendly way to teach small children how to examine their consciences at the end of the day and teach them the importance of gratitude. At the end of the book it asks the children to say five things they are grateful for. Imagine how much sweeter the world would be if all children learn gratitude early.
Here's the book's trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbf_KXG73HY
9/23/2016 6:14:44 PM

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