For years I was ungrateful. The idea of expressing gratitude for small things seemed unimportant. I was destined for larger things in life, and was into the idea of looking toward the future, and racing there as fast as my feet could carry me. I didn’t think I needed to stop and consider that which I already had.
Can you really blame me for living life this way though? I live in a consumer culture where you can never have enough, and where competition to beat your peers to the next “success” milestone reigns supreme. A culture where your own inner well-being comes second to the outward facade you slap on every day to impress everyone else. Well, maybe you can’t blame me, but you can learn from me.
It took being unhappy for me to learn. Looking back, I had achieved every life goal I had set out for myself, and many others I never even thought of. So why did I have this insatiable void inside me? While searching to fill the void, I came across gratitude.
Modern western society is one of overabundance; the more you have, the better, and you can never have enough. Consider money for a moment. Most people think that if they could just have a little bit more things would be better. Well consider when you had a little less and compare it to now. Are you any happier? Do you feel any more satisfied? The answer for most is no. Counterintuitively, this need for overabundance actually creates a void that cannot be filled by more. Even more counterintuitively, the best way to create true abundance is to realize what you already have – cue in gratefulness.
The positive effects of expressing gratitude have been known for over 2,000 years by spiritual leaders, scholars and philosophers alike. Buddhism, Christianity, Stoicism, Taoism and pretty much all ancient teachings instilled gratitude as a core component of their manifesto. In fact, I would argue that gratitude is one core principle that is at the heart of almost all ancient spiritual and theological text.
So, if gratitude is great, and if the ancient teachers had any credibility, why the hell has it been forgotten in our modern lives? Shouldn’t something so important be taught to our children, and perhaps even our dogs?
No need to worry – gratitude has recently become a hot topic in modern science and psychology. Notably, Dr. Robert Emmons, considered to be the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, has opened the flood gates for research on the subject. And the interesting part? The science-based approach has confirmed the ancient teachings around gratitude and has put it on the map as a legitimate cure-all for most ailments.
5 Incredible Benefits of Gratitude
I will not provide an exhaustive list on the benefits (there is just too many), but here are five that especially that piqued my interest:
Decreased stress, anxiety, and depression have all been linked to a daily gratitude practice. Dr. Emmon’s research has shown that there is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. The more gratitude one has, the higher the perceived well-being that person experiences. Another way to look at this is gratitude directly improves perceived happiness.
A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that writing in a gratitude journal before bed improves sleep quality. The theory behind this is that feeling grateful puts you in a positive mindset, and allows you to forget about the worries that tend to appear prior to sleep.
Grateful people have been shown to be more trusting, agreeable, and open. These traits essentially make grateful people more likeable.
Improved Physical Health
A consistent gratitude practice has been shown to reduce inflammation in subjects, and grateful people report feeling less aches and pains.
Likely due to an amalgamation of the previously mentioned benefits, gratitude has been shown to improve quality and length of life.
I would be hard-pressed to find anything else in our direct control so scientifically linked to well-being and happiness. Hopefully reading this article has you searching for a little more gratitude in your life.