3 Ways Gratitude Will Change Your Life
As a teenager I remember my mother reminding me to have a grateful heart. I would grumble in response, and complain under my breath. I hated when she said that. In that moment, being grateful felt insincere. It was the last thing I wanted to do.
As an adult, some days I still feel this way. It is easier to focus on all of the things going wrong—on all of the things I am “not grateful” for, rather than shifting my focus and reminding myself that there is still room for gratitude in my life. Having a grateful heart can be the last thing I want to do.
Let’s just get the truth out there. Many days we don’t feel like being grateful. We know the research and the benefits of gratitude—it improves our overall well-being, increases happiness, reduces depression and stress, increases self-esteem, improves our physical health, but we resist anyway.
When life feels hard we feel justified in our resistance to being grateful.
We are not wired to feel grateful. Our human nature is to focus on solutions to problems, things we want to “fix,” and situations that we can’t control. Even our prayers lack gratitude and tend mostly to be made up of requests.
In spite of this, adopting a sincere and grateful heart on a daily basis is life altering.
Gratitude shifts everything.
One of the reasons gratitude can have such a powerful impact on our lives is because our brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative at the same time. Recent research on brain activity showed how gratitude actually changes the blood flow in the brain, increasing dopamine –the feel good hormone) which results in a wide-range of positive effects –increasing exercise, improving sleep, decreasing depression and resulting in fewer aches and pains.(how do I show a citation?)
Gratitude serves as a catalyst for transforming our relationships, the way we view our circumstances, and how we view the world.
Next time you want to resist gratitude remember these 3 transformative effects on your life.
1. Gratitude improves our relationships.
Our tendency is to fixate on the negative behavior and attributes of our children and spouse. This often leads us to “fortune telling” – worrying that one of our children will become like lazy Uncle Harry or our spouse will never change ______(fill in the blank). We find ourselves discontent. We are prone to fall into focusing on what they aren’t doing, rather than all that they are.
When we commit to having a heart of gratitude, it breathes new life into our relationships. We shift our focus. The energy in our home changes from feeling negative to being positive. The whole family feels it. We begin to look for ways we can show appreciation. We catch our children doing things that we tend not to notice. We appreciate our spouse for who he is rather than who he is not.
2. Gratitude changes the way we view our circumstances.
Gratitude helps us to accept what we cannot change. When we face challenges and situations that are out of our control, gratitude brings us to a place of surrender. Rather than holding on so tightly to the way we want things to be, we are able to release it with open hands. We begin to let go of our death grip, releasing our anxiety, worry, and stress. We enter into a space of acceptance. We are open to new possibilities that never existed before. We experience peace. Rather than feeling life has us by the throat, we are able to breathe fresh air.
As a result of practicing gratitude, our change in attitude shifts our circumstances profoundly.
3. Gratitude changes the way we view the world.
Everyday life offers unlimited opportunities to be grateful. These opportunities are around us all the time. It is easy to take for granted these things and allow them to go by unnoticed.
I have a 6-month-old granddaughter. When I am with her, I experience the world with new eyes.
The other day I took her outside in the rain. Her eyes were wide with wonder as she looked all around—up at the sky watching the rainfall, studying the pitter-patter as it dropped to the ground. I was filled with gratitude in the beauty of that moment.
Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present moment.
Think about some of our extra ordinary miracles we experience moment by moment throughout our day…
…the breath that gives us life, the wind in the trees and the leaves blowing in the breeze, our child’s smile, the sound of laughter, music, a baby’s cry, holding a loved one’s hand, the smell of freshly cut grass, no two sunsets ever the same, things that never change—the sunrise and the sunset, the sun by day, the stars and moon by night, all radiating their light, the miracle of every intricate flower, the smell of soap, the taste of water on your lips, the variety and brilliant colors around us everyday that there are too many to name. Our modern conveniences—ice cubes, clean water, the feeling of taking a shower, electricity, computers, cell phones, transportation, relatives that may challenge us but are always there, a conversation with a friend, tasting a piece of chocolate, watching the clouds in the sky, or the simple peace that comes sitting in complete stillness.
Embracing gratitude everyday helps me to participate more fully in life by tuning in to the extra-ordinary miracles in the moment.
The best news of all? Gratitude grows!
The more you start looking for things to be grateful for the more your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for.
Next time when you feel stuck, anxious, or powerless to change your present circumstances, try gratitude. It’s okay if you don’t feel like it. Try it anyway.
If you want to transform the way you feel about your relationships, circumstances, and your view on life practice gratitude.
Gratitude will profoundly impact the way we feel and experience life when we stop resisting and choose gratitude daily.
Citation: Zahn R., Moll J., Paiva M., Garrido G,. Krueger F., Huey E., et al..(2008). The neural basis of human social values: evidence from functional mri. Cereb. Cortex. 19, 276–283. 10.1093/cercor/bhn080 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]