Gratitude is the world’s most powerful drug. Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast defines gratitude as the feeling of appreciation that comes when “you recognize that something is valuable to you, which has nothing to do with its monetary worth.”
People often assume that gratitude is merely saying “thank you,” as if that were the most crucial aspect. But the most vital element of cultivating gratitude is developing a sense of trust in life. Essentially, receiving every moment in life as a gift. As Jay Shetty says, you don’t need to label the situation as good or bad. You don’t need to judge the moment. As soon as you label something as bad, your mind starts to believe it. Instead, be grateful for the challenges, the adversity.
When you begin to receive every moment as a gift, you release yourself from a poverty mentality. When you live with a poverty mentality, you focus on your lack of and ignore everything you’ve received. You focus on how much work you have, the things you don’t have, your spouse’s problems, the people you don’t like, or how unfair life is.
But when you practice grateful living, you start focusing on the things that are in your control by asking yourself, “What’s the opportunity at this moment?” You look for ways that will help you evolve from your current state. When you start receiving every moment in life as a gift, you begin to let go and be present at the moment with more appreciation. You begin to focus on how lucky you are to have a job, have a roof over your head, have meaningful and fulfilling relationships with your spouse, family, and friends, and be alive and healthy. That’s the point of all spiritual teachings—to be present at the moment.
When you feel grateful, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you want to feel that way again, and you begin to cultivate gratitude as a habit. When you start to cultivate gratitude, you’ll look for opportunities, not obstacles. You’ll be drawn to creativity, not complaint. You’ll find ways to grow and get yourself out of a mental rut rather than succumbing to self-limiting beliefs, thoughts, and actions.
Cultivate gratitude as a daily practice, both internally – how you perceive your life and the external world – and externally through action. When you exude gratitude, it will reverberate in your community by creating a culture of kindness, compassion, and tolerance.
Listed below are six ways to cultivate gratitude in your life.
Gratitude journaling has many benefits, including helping you sleep better, promoting happiness, increasing alertness, lowering anxiety and reducing intrusive thoughts. When you start your day with gratitude journaling, you begin the day on a positive note with a ripple effect throughout the rest of your day. Likewise, when you end your day with gratitude journaling, you end the day on a positive note, which is crucial because the emotion you fall asleep with is most likely the emotion you’ll wake up with in the morning. As gratitude journaling becomes a habit, you’ll eventually train your mind to see the positive in every situation.
In general, journaling also helps you develop more self-awareness. When you have a negative thought or complaint, instead of saying it aloud to someone and passing on that negativity, please write it down. Research shows that when you write the negative thought or complaint down, it becomes more productive and you increase your self-awareness, as it provides an opportunity for self-reflection. You begin to notice your flaws, fears, triggers, negative thinking patterns, self-limiting thoughts, and illogical reasoning, paving the way for you to generate more kindness, compassion, and tolerance for others.
Now, let’s move onto the technical aspects of journaling. There isn’t a right or wrong way to journal. You can write in full sentences or point form notes. You can be as brief or as elaborate as you would like. It’s okay to make grammar mistakes. It’s okay if your writing is messy. It’s okay if you jump from topic to topic. The point is to let your thoughts flow. Write whatever goes to your mind.
Some journaling prompts that you can write about are:
What are three things that you are grateful for? Answer this question in the morning and at night.
What are you most afraid of?
What are you most proud of about yourself?
What are your strengths, values, and goals?
What character traits and habits do you want to develop or get rid of?
2. Express Gratitude Toward Others
Besides strengthening relationships, expressing gratitude toward your loved ones also promotes happiness, boosts cardiovascular health, and improves mental well-being. You can show appreciation for your spouse, family, and friends in various ways. My preferred method is through handwritten notes, as it is more impactful than a verbal “thank you.” You can write a letter to someone for whom you are grateful, detailing the qualities and values that you appreciate about the person, an act of service that they performed for you or just about how blessed you are to have him/her in your life. You can also show appreciation by giving them a call to see how they’re doing, sending them a meme or a quote you found on social media that reminds you of them, making them breakfast, or taking them out for coffee. There are many ways you can express your gratitude toward others.
3. Surround Yourself With Positive Influences
As the axiom goes, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It’s easy to get caught up in the words, opinions, and comments of other people. But remember, every interaction you have with another and yourself is taking its toll on you. Gradually, the conversations full of negativity and complaint are forming your temporary moods and permanent character. In other words, if you always associate with people who are religiously cynical and complain, then you will eventually adopt those qualities as well.
It’s also essential for you to reflect on making sure that you’re not a negative influence on someone else. At some point in your life, you may be the harmful and toxic person in the relationship. Consistent self-reflection and self-awareness are so critical. Ask yourself, “Am I toxic? Am I contributing to the toxicity?” The best way to attract people with qualities like gratefulness, kindness, and compassion into your life is to develop them yourself.
I believe true fulfillment stems from creating value and being of service to others. Service transforms negative emotions like envy, anger, and disappointment into gratitude by providing perspective. When you broaden your perspective by intentionally exposing yourself to others’ suffering, it minimizes your pain and offers you an opportunity to appreciate what you have. You immediately feel a sense of gratitude when you use your time and effort to improve their world even a little bit. You can be of service to others by picking a cause you’re passionate about and joining a local group or organization supporting it.
5. Living Mindfully
Mindful living is about being conscious and aware of the present experience, the purpose of all spiritual teachings. Lao Tzu has been credited for saying, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” By being conscious of the present moment, you become more appreciative of the little things you often ignore or take for granted. You can inject more mindfulness into any aspect of your life. It merely means channelling all of your attention to whatever you’re doing, whether it’s exercising, cleaning, cooking, eating, or showering. For instance, when you’re eating, pay attention to the ingredients, texture, and flavors while you’re chewing.
Detaching from your ego encourages gratitude. When you let go of ownership of your knowledge, skills, and success, you realize that you are not “self-made” because your success was built upon others’ help, including your parents, teachers, bosses, courses, or books. When you realize that, you begin to feel more grateful and humble for what you have accomplished. Ideally, gratitude inspires you to become a mentor in your way, to pass on what you’ve been given in some form.