Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough conducted a series of studies in which they asked participants to write down daily at least ﬁve things, major or minor, for which they were grateful. Participants’ responses included everything from their parents to the Rolling Stones, from waking up in the morning to God. It turns out that putting aside a minute or two every day to express gratitude for one’s life has far-reaching consequences.
Compared with the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life in general but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to oﬀer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness.
An attitude of gratitude creates blessings.
—SIR JOHN TEMPLETON
Table of Contents
Gratitude is a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift—whether the gift is deserved or not, whether it is a concrete object or an abstract gesture of kindness.
It can be a moment of at-oneness that is evoked in the presence of natural beauty or the silence of the soul, a moment when the world—with both its abundance and its challenges—makes perfect sense when its gifts can be seen and appreciated in whatever wrappings they come in.
Gratitude can also be a conscious, rational choice to focus on life’s blessings rather than on its shortcomings; it can be developed into a spiritual practice to create a positive outlook on life. It is a feeling, a moral attribute, a virtue, a mystical experience, and a conscious act, all in one.
Gratitude is a universal human experience that can be either a random occurrence of grace or an attitude chosen to create a better life.
How we can learn to express and experience gratitude depends on our religious perspective, our psychological makeup, and our level of awareness. The process begins with the awareness that we have a choice. The next step requires a necessary stillness within ourselves so we can do the internal work of being grateful. Then the feeling of gratitude becomes a conscious attitude and is expressed through our actions.
There is a paradoxical aspect to gratitude as well: the more grateful we are; the more reasons we have to be grateful. This knowledge can create a shift from gratitude as a response to gratitude as an attitude, as a receptive state that allows blessings to flow in. For a person who has religious or spiritual beliefs, this attitude brings about a relationship with the Divine, the source from which all good comes.
We gratefully recognize that the gift of life comes from the Creator and respond with humility, awe, and recognition of how blessed we are to have the opportunity to learn, grow, love, create, share, and help others.
A Grateful Mindset:
When we make a habit of gratitude, we no longer require a special event to make us happy. We become more aware of good things that happen to us during the day, as we anticipate putting them on our list.
The gratitude list can include the name of a person you care about, something that you appreciate that you or someone else did, or an insight that you had as a result of writing in this journal.
What are the things that you are grateful for? What do you appreciate in your life?
Write five things you are grateful for:
Gratitude Exercise #1
Each day this week, write down at least five things for which you are grateful. The key when doing this exercise is to remain mindful, not to take this exercise for granted. One way of remaining mindful is by visualizing or re-experiencing whatever it is that you are writing down. For example, as you write down “parents,” see them in your imagination; if you write down “conversation with a partner,” try to re-experience the same feelings you had while conversing with your partner.
After this week, during which I recommend you write down daily gratitude, continue doing this exercise at least once a week. Because the benefits of doing this exercise are so significant, I have dedicated space in this journal for writing down your weekly gratitude.
Daily Gratitude List
- DAY 1- I am grateful for:
- DAY 2- I am grateful for:
- DAY 3- I am grateful for:
- DAY 4- I am grateful for:
- DAY 5- I am grateful for:
- DAY 6- I am grateful for:
- DAY 7- I am grateful for:
“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money ﬂ owed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.” —Oprah Winfrey
Rewiring Negativity with Rituals:
There is much research suggesting that change—learning new tricks, introducing a new behavior, replacing old habits—is extremely hard. Initiating a ritual is often diﬃcult, but maintaining it is relatively easy.
Top athletes have rituals: they know that at speciﬁc hours during each day they are on the ﬁeld, then in the gym, and then they stretch. For most of us, brushing our teeth at least twice a day is a ritual and therefore does not require special powers of discipline. We need to take the same approach toward any change we want to introduce.
If we hold our happiness as a value and want to become happier, then we need to form rituals around that too.
What have you tried to change and did not succeed in? What new behaviors or resolutions did you try to adopt and what did not?
Weekly Gratitude List
This week, I am grateful for:
Gratitude Exercise #2
Come up with two rituals that you believe would make you happier. It could be starting to meditate for fifteen minutes every evening, going on a date with your spouse on Tuesdays, taking four deep breaths first thing when you wake up in the morning, pleasure reading for an hour every other day, spending two hours each Sunday afternoon on your hobby, and so on.
Once you identify the rituals you want to adopt, enter them into your planner and begin to do them. New rituals may be difficult to initiate; over time, usually within as little as thirty days, performing these rituals will become as easy and as natural as brushing your teeth.
Throughout this journal, you will be encouraged to set rituals. Introduce no more than one or two rituals at a time, and make sure they become a habit before you introduce new ones. As Tony Schwartz says, “Incremental change is better than ambitious failure. . .Success feeds on itself.”
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” —Aristotle
Gratitude Exercise #3
Journaling About Hardship
Jamie Pennebaker from the University of Texas has demonstrated the benefits of coping with difficulties through writing. Every day for four consecutive days Pennebaker invited participants to spend fifteen to twenty minutes writing about upsetting or traumatic experiences.
Participants were guaranteed confidentiality and were asked to open up as much as possible. It turns out that the one hour or so spent over four days significantly reduced participants’ overall levels of anxiety, increased their overall happiness, and improved their physical health.
On a separate sheet of paper, so that you are not constrained by space, spend fifteen to twenty minutes a day for four days following Pennebaker’s instructions:
- Write continuously about the most upsetting or traumatic experience of your entire life. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. In your writing, I want you to discuss your deepest thoughts and feelings about the experience. You can write about anything you want. But whatever you choose, it should be something that has affected you very deeply. Ideally, it should be about something you have not talked about with others in detail. It is critical, however, that you let yourself go and touch those deepest emotions and thoughts that you have.
- In other words, write about what happened and how you felt about it, and how you feel about it now. Finally, you can write on different traumas during each session or the same one over the entire study. Your choice of trauma for each session is entirely up to you.
“We are healed of a suﬀering only by expressing it to the full.” —Marcel Proust
- To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder, and is to praise the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. –THOMAS MERTON
- Eventually, when we look back on our existence, we see it all as a blessing, so we thank God for the fear, we thank God for the doubt, we thank God for the anger. And we thank God as each form of negativity becomes unnecessary as a response in our lives. —JOHN MORTON
- We have to say simply, “Lord, I receive, and I am grateful.” It doesn’t matter what religion you practice; we must all surrender to the highest source we can. All of us must ask for protection, for that is what surrender is— placing ourselves into the protecting hands of God. —JOHN-ROGER
- 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. And, it can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. —MELODY BEATTIE
- [T]hose who are in internal things, that is to say, those who have felt delighted in benevolence and charity toward the neighbor, and above all those who have felt blessedness in love to the Lord, are encompassed with a grateful and pleasant sphere which is the heavenly sphere itself, and therefore they are in heaven. —EMANUEL SWEDENBORG
- Give thanks for sorrow that teaches you pity; for pain that teaches you courage—and give exceeding thanks for the mystery, which remains a mystery still— the veil that hides you from the infinite, which makes it possible for you to believe in what you cannot see. —ROBERT NATHAN
- The reason why frankincense and incenses were used in sacred rites among the ancients, is that odor corresponds to perception, and a fragrant odor, such as that of spices of various kinds, to a grateful and pleasing perception, such as is that of truth from good, or faith from charity. Indeed, the correspondence is such that in the other life, whenever it is the good pleasure of the Lord, perceptions themselves are changed into odors. —EMANUEL SWEDENBORG
- As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. —JOHN 15:9–11
- It is love that brings happiness to people. It is love that gives joy to happiness. My mother didn’t give birth to me, that love did. A hundred blessings and praises to that love. —RUMI
- To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. —JOHANNES A. GAERTNER
Also Read: Stoicism: Stoic Wisdom for Modern Life