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Attitude of Gratitude

Lord Buddha said, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” The power of ‘thank you’ is immense. It’s just two words but the magic that they contain is enormous. It is a sign of respect to the person who has helped you or given you something, encouraging them to help us again in the future. It is an acknowledgement that you are not taken for granted, and also that things and people matter to you. Saying ‘thank you’ is pretty much ubiquitous. It’s an everyday etiquette and a simple courtesy because we thank people not only for gifts, special favours, assistance in times of need but also the people who show the simplest of gestures like holding door for us, offering us seat in a bus or train, or passing salt at the dinner table. It costs nothing, not even an effort. Yet some people just neglect to be grateful, particularly, when they fail to say ‘thank you’. Because of this thankless attitude they are often labeled as rude. In fact, author Lynn Truss in her book Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today cites the humble ‘thank you’ as one of the major weapons essential to stemming the tide of everyday rudeness. She says that rudeness leaves little room for genuine thoughtfulness, a lack of which inevitably turns people off.

Thanking people and their contribution in our life is a sign of humility and humanity. Most eastern world scriptures say this. An attitude of gratitude means counting your blessings and learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle. This attitude shifts your focus from what you lack in life to the abundance that is already present. Giving thanks helps people appreciate and care for their bodies. Behavioral and psychological research has shown that practicing gratitude makes people not only happier and more resilient but it also improves health and reduces stress. Of course, gratitude cannot cure cancer but it can strengthen your physiological functioning. According to Dr. Robert Emmons book “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier” practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Dr. Emmons has been studying gratitude for almost ten years and is considered by many to be the world’s leading authority on gratitude. He says keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks results in better sleep and more energy. “Instead of sheep, count your blessings” recommends well-known Indian psychotherapist Dr. Giritsh Patel. “Counting blessings before going to bed generate positive thoughts which may soothe the nervous system resulting in better and longer sleep”. He further adds, “A positive attitude that includes gratitude helps reduce a multitude of toxic emotions ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. It also avoids negative behaviors like substance abuse, violence and risky sexual behaviors; and also helps overcome depression and loneliness”.

Endorsing mental health benefits of gratitude motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says that positive emotion improves health. Besides improving satisfaction, gratitude builds willpower as well. People who had higher levels of gratitude in their daily lives are more patient and less impulsive. They express more self-control in various areas of their lives, particularly when they have to take financial decisions.

Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. Grateful people tend to be not only more content but also more optimistic as well, a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system. Writer Bear Grylls said, “‘Make Gratitude your default feeling. Do not crib or complain about anything or anyone. Learn how to cultivate a sense of gratitude and reap its immense benefits”. Grylls asks his readers to jot down a quick list of things they are grateful for, which helps clear the mind of any negativity. Readers are also asked to keep a ‘gratitude journal’ and record experiences for which they are grateful. When done on a daily basis ‘thank list’ grows longer and longer.

Celebrity TV show-host Oprah Winfrey says, “Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life”. Some of us can naturally be grateful or thankful for most things as they happen throughout the day while some of us need to train our minds to see life’s positives to help learning to be more grateful or thankful. Since our thoughts have the power to shape our brains the more conscious we are about perceiving an experience as positive the more this perception will generalize to other parts of the brain. Best-selling author and psychologist Rick Hanson says that we can take advantage of the ‘plasticity’ of the brain to cultivate and sustain positive emotions. He draws an interesting comparison terming negative experiences as ‘Velcro’ that tend to stick in our minds, and positive experiences as ‘Teflon’ that readily slip away.

We can take a few steps to cultivate the quotient of gratitude or appreciation. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have – rather than complain about all the things you think  you deserve.

Gratitude Exercises

  • List each night 3-5 positive experiences from the entire day. Elaborate on each as much as you can. Be grateful and thankful for the food you eat, a sunny day, a warm bed, a healthy and an intact body, a tender hug, a playful moment with your pet, and laughter with your family.
  •  Do a 2-5 minute ‘gratitude meditation’ focusing your thoughts on expressing gratitude to each and every one who serve/served you in any way or to everything that you have. Create thoughts such as “I am so grateful to have a job that pays me to enough to live a decent life” or “I am thankful that I have a beautiful home to live in” etc.
  •  Say ‘thank you’ often, even to your children and people who work for you – employees, servants, driver, maid-servants etc. They can be your parents, teachers, friends, spouse, or neighbors; in fact, all those who make your life wonderful; all those who bring joy to your life.
  • Always remember to express gratitude at all meals either alone or with loved ones. Speaking it out loud is very powerful. You might express your gratitude for each person sitting at the table as well.