Gratitude: Why Bother?
by Elena Greco
Typical reading time: 3 minutes
November 25, 2015
We hear a lot about gratitude. It seems like something we should be having, or aspiring to have. But what is it and how do we get some? And why bother, really?
When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. ~ Willie Nelson
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame within us. ~ Albert Schweitzer
What is gratitude? It’s a feeling of thankfulness for the blessings in our life. But is it a feeling? An emotion? Or a state? I’m not sure if I can answer that, but I do know that neurological and medical studies show that the regular experience of gratitude or thankfulness has a positive effect on our brain, our heart and our immune response, just as continuous anger or sadness has a negative one. And I know that just as thoughts can affect our emotions, so do emotions affect our thoughts and, subsequently, our actions. So if I can coax a feeling of gratitude within myself, I can positively affect my life.
What is gratitude’s effect in our lives? And how does that occur? In a practical sense, when I focus on gratitude for the blessings in my life, what happens? First, I feel love, and a nice warm feeling wells up in my heart, emotionally speaking. And I feel like expressing love to others. I feel happy and secure. I don’t worry so much about things when I think about the blessings I’ve already received. I’ve experienced some very large challenges in my life, but often something or someone has appeared to help me through these things in some way, when I least expected it. I feel incredibly grateful that they were there. There were also times when no help appeared, and I’m grateful for getting through those times, as well, because they forced me to look within, to reach hard for my connection to Consciousness and commitment, so that I found an anchor that holds me in good stead when faced with new challenges.
When I’m aggravated about things in my daily, mundane life, after the initial aggravation, I somehow always come back to the blessings I have in my life now. Every single day I have the thought at least once that I am grateful for the food I eat. I’m not sure how or when that came to be part of my daily practice, but as a result of staying current about what is happening in our world, I know that there are many people in the world suffering from hunger, even dying from famine, and I have the luxury of having healthy food literally delivered to my door. Many times when I open my refrigerator I think, “I am so lucky to have all this healthy food to eat.” When I’m distressed by seemingly unfortunate circumstances, it really doesn’t take long now for me to come around to the thought, “I am so incredibly fortunate to have some of the things I have in my life right now.” And I notice that when I have these thoughts, my perspective on the mundane things instantly changes and I’m no longer so bothered by them.
It’s even possible to be grateful to people who have caused us harm. It doesn’t require that we forgive, condone, forget or even ignore that harm; it just requires that we choose to think of the ultimate positive that was given us, perhaps the ability to discern later what had actually occurred below the surface, or what the lesson or deeper benefit might have been, and become stronger because of it. I don’t have to be grateful or forgiving for someone else’s unfortunate behavior, but I can be grateful for my own resources in dealing with it, or for the ultimate result in my life (what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!).
Gratitude seems to be an antidote to negative emotions. I’m not suggesting that negative emotions should ever be ignored or stifled, or that they shouldn’t be explored and expressed in a healthy manner and place, just that sometimes wallowing in them perpetuates them. And isn’t it wonderful that there is something that can instantly help when we want to feel better at those times? Shifting the focus to gratitude transforms negativity.
People have often said to me in the past, “I couldn’t live through what you did.” I always say to them, “Of course you could! You could do it if you had to.” There is really nothing that can destroy us but our own mind. And there is always a way to overcome obstacles; we just have to be honest with ourselves and be willing to do the work. Gratitude for the positives in our lives can give us the strength to do that.
In gratitude, for me there is also a sense of satisfaction and acceptance. I don’t need more when I feel grateful. I am filled. I am fulfilled. I feel soft instead of hard. I feel love instead of hate or anger or sorrow.
On the other hand, if someone has blessings in their life, yet feels that they automatically deserve those things and therefore has no gratitude for them, that is arrogance. Arrogance is a state of ingratitude, and what follows it is the absence of all the positive things I’ve just mentioned.
I’m not suggesting a Pollyanna approach to negativity, a covering over or ignoring of what needs to be dealt with in dealing with the negative stuff of life, but rather choosing at times to focus instead on gratitude. It can be a positive daily choice, like choosing to brush one’s teeth every morning or sticking to an exercise regime. When I open the frig and have that moment of gratitude for the food inside, it changes how I am in the world for a time afterwards. That is the person I want to bring to the world more and more. I want to perpetuate gratitude in my life and let it spill into my interactions with the people in my life.
The wonderful thing about gratitude is that it really is a choice. We can choose to think grateful thoughts and contemplate the things we have to be grateful for. Any time I want to experience that incredibly wonderful feeling that gratitude brings, all I have to do is remember the things I’m grateful for. There are always plenty.
See Elena’s bios for more information about the author.