The philosopher Eric Hoffer stated, “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”
Gratitude is a virtue disposing the mind to an inward sense and an outward acknowledgment of a gift or benefit received. Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to us and represents a general state of thankfulness, gratefulness or appreciation.
Gratitude encompasses abundance, simple appreciation, appreciation of others and the world, optimism, life satisfaction, hope, spirituality/religion, forgiveness, and empathy. It is negatively related to depression, anxiety, materialism and envy.
Gratitude is also a readiness to return or express the gift or feeling of appreciation. As William Arthur Ward noted, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Gratitude has one of the strongest links with mental well being of any character trait. Research has measured improvements in mood, specifically depression, when practicing gratitude. Such benefits include better physiological health (heart rhythms and sleep patterns), fewer physical symptoms (headaches, colds), increased cognitive performance, higher states of alertness, determination and energy, and an increased sense of connection to others.
Expressions of gratitude by one person tend to motivate others to express gratitude. Thus, showing gratitude initiates a virtuous cycle, enhancing positive reciprocal behavior. Indeed, gratitude when shared with others has significant effects. Dr. Emmons of the University of California Davis found, “When we express an emotion, it tends to magnify or amplify the feeling. So expressing thanks makes our gratitude stronger.”
Expressing gratitude also strengthens relationships. What is good for the giver of gratitude is also good for the person receiving it. Studies show that the expression of thanks “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
Gratitude’s opposing trait appears as envy. If gratitude is fearless, then envy is full of fear and seeped in the scarcity principle of ‘not enough.’ Our envy can even be directed towards ourselves, showing up as that inner voice that enviously prevents us from believing in and pursuing our dreams. It says, “You’re too old, not smart enough, don’t have enough money” to manifest your hopes.
Gratitude can be introduced into our day by saying “thank you,” sending thank-you notes telling people what we appreciate about them, identifying in the moment what we are appreciating (e.g., the sky, a smell, a touch), accepting compliments and gifts from others, and regularly using a gratitude journal.
Sometimes we do not see all that we can be grateful for in our lives. Perhaps this Thanksgiving weekend we can revisit our blessings. Look around and imagine your life without certain people, happenings and items, in both past and current situations. A great practice it to list five different gratitudes each day for three weeks. Begin with, “I am grateful for …” The rest is up to you.