How to Make Gratitude More than an Attitude
Practising gratitude kind of sounds like a little thing that you might do someday if nothing more important comes up, but something more important always comes up. It’s that extra touch that you could add to your wellness routine if you have time once you’ve done yoga and cardio and meditation and bodywork but you’ll never have time so don’t worry about it.
If this reasoning seems familiar, you may be seriously underestimating the value of gratitude. Turns out, regularly taking the time to feel grateful is really good for your sense of well-being, your mental and physical health, and your community, which can have ripple effects that reach much further than you’d expect from such a simple point of origin.
Gratitude is Good for You
On a strictly personal level, consciously offering thanks creates an environment in which negative feelings like envy, resentment, and regret have no foothold. The happiness, satisfaction, and joy that come with the acknowledgement of gratitude banish the worry that we might be less-than or lacking. Studies have shown that people with regular gratitude practices (like journaling or meditation) are more resilient to stress, anxiety, and depression. Preliminary research has also associated gratitude with better sleep and even improved recovery from heart attacks.
According to Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, practising gratitude brings us into the present moment, much like yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation. Establishing an awareness of the importance of the present allows us to more fully experience and enjoy life. Grounding ourselves in a place of gratitude also equips us to better meet the challenges of modern life because it constantly reminds us of the good people doing good things for others. When we believe in altruism, it becomes easier to cope with the big problems facing the world.
The Big Picture
It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed and pessimistic at times about the state of the world. Things are arguably not going very well (in a hell-in-a-handbasket type of way!) in many places on the planet. Big on the list of global causes of despair include climate change, war, income inequality, poverty, social injustice, religious intolerance, xenophobia, oligarchy, ignorance, the list goes on. It’s enough to make even a natural optimist very concerned about the future of mankind.
Before you completely give up hope, however, allow gratitude a chance to do its thing. Identifying the goodness we do have in our lives not only makes us feel better about our own circumstances but may have the power to restore our faith in the intrinsic goodness of others. This, in turn, allows us to persevere and find the things we can do to help and the changemakers we can support. Once an attitude of gratitude has been established, it’s time to start taking actions of gratitude.
More Than an Attitude
By focusing on gratitude, we bring the good things in the world to the forefront of our consciousness, rather than letting them get bogged down under the weight of so much negativity. That doesn’t mean that the bad things go away, however, which is why it’s important to not only feel grateful on the regular but to act on that feeling. When we recognise that we’ve been helped along by others in life-changing ways, the motivation is high to pass the favour along when we are able. As Emmons writes, “gratitude serves as a key link between receiving and giving.” How can we expand the circle of good vibes, paying them backwards, forwards, and sideways? As yogis, we have many ways to reach beyond ourselves and touch the lives of others. For inspiration, we want to share the example of Yoga Gives Back founder Kayoko Mitsumatsu. Her gratitude for the benefits that yoga brought to her life motivates her work to alleviate poverty and facilitate educational opportunities for women and children in India. Supporting Yoga Gives Back is one way for all yogis to show our gratitude.
Once you’ve identified the objects of your gratitude (start a list if you’re not sure), it naturally becomes clear how you can take action. For instance: If you are grateful for green spaces and the natural world, make sure they stay green by starting to think like an environmentalist. If you are grateful for financial abundance in your life, be choosy about how you spend. Support ethical, sustainable businesses. If you are grateful to your pets, maybe it’s time to move to a more plant-based diet. If you are grateful to your yoga teachers, lift them up by going to classes and events.
Even a simple smile for the barista who makes your coffee, a kind word to the bus driver who gets you to work, or a nice note to the teachers who spend all day with your kids make big differences, rippling the effects of gratitude in ever-widening circles.
It’s time to bump gratitude up to the top of your to-do list. Its personal and global benefits make it an attitude and an action we should all cultivate.