What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.
Some synonyms for gratitude are acknowledgment, recognition, responsiveness, grace, gratefulness, thanks, thanksgiving, thankfulness, indebtedness, praise, and appreciativeness.
How does one begin to explain what it is to feel gratitude? Gratitude can be described as the recognition of the good things in our lives as well as the awareness that these good things have come from outside of ourselves.
Feeling, Emotion, Virtue
In the book, The Psychology of Gratitude by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, “Gratitude is one of the most neglected emotions and one of the most underestimated of the virtues.” Also, gratitude is a highly prized disposition in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu thought, deemed essential for living life well. Although a variety of life experiences can elicit feelings of gratitude, it usually stems from a positive personal outcome due to the actions of another person, nature, animals, a higher power, or the cosmos. “Three components of gratitude can be identified, a warm sense of appreciation for somebody or something, a sense of goodwill toward that person or thing, and a disposition to act that flows from appreciation and goodwill.”
From Psychology Today, gratitude is an emotion that can help people feel happier. It’s a social emotion that strengthens relationships. It is possible to feel grateful for loved ones, colleagues, animals, nature, and life in general. The emotion fosters a positive environment that is beneficial internally and externally.
What makes a person feel grateful? We are all different and on different paths on our journeys. Perhaps a quick survey of human needs may help with understanding gratitude and why people may be grateful for different things or events in their lives.
There are so many sources outlining basic human needs. I chose to reintroduce or review the somewhat famous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and seven basic human needs from a website called Survival Report.
From survivalreport.org, there’s an article that listed a simplified version of the Maslow hierarchy. This article details seven basic needs for human survival. These seven needs are air, water, food, shelter, safety, sleep, and clothing. Think about this list for a moment and imagine how many in our world have limited access to some of these, or possibly no access at all. This list highlights seven items for which we can easily feel gratitude. Without going into too much detail to list the negative side of limitations, but this list was from a survival point of view. For the most part, one probably won’t immediately die from a lack of one of these basic needs being fulfilled. But, over time, it can certainly affect your health and well-being. Ultimately, sure, death can occur. Most of us do enjoy these precious necessities. Perhaps we might be able to understand that some in our world do not. And, that recognition may remind us to be grateful for what we do have and what we do experience on a daily basis. And, for those of us who may not have access to all of these every day, we may still find gratitude for the days we can enjoy what we do have. This example may help us to understand what makes a person feel gratitude.
On another level, in an attempt to answer that question, understand that we are all on a journey, just on different paths. We all have different influences and opportunities throughout our journeys. Bringing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into the discussion may shed some new light on a different perspective. Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who developed a five-tier hierarchy of needs in the early 1940s and later published a book in 1954 to explain human motivation. His theory states that one must satisfy – to some degree – lower levels before moving up the hierarchy to meet other needs. These needs are categorized as physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization. Depending on where one is in their life, along their path, they may or may not be in a position to meet certain needs. An article from Simple Psychology may best summarize this concept. “Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by a failure to meet lower-level needs. Life experiences, including divorce and loss of a job, may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.” Finally, in my opinion, as one moves through and satisfies these needs outlined in the different levels of the hierarchy – and throughout their journey – they may achieve new understanding, appreciation, and gratitude for life.
Benefits of Gratitude
From Berkeley University’s Greater Good Magazine, in an article titled, Why Gratitude Is Good, Robert Emmons – the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude – discusses a series of studies he and his colleagues performed. He states that he found those who practice gratitude consistently experience a large number of benefits physically, psychologically, and socially. He mentions that social benefits are noteworthy because gratitude is a social emotion and a “relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” Some of the other social benefits cited are being more helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving. In addition to social benefits, some of the physical benefits realized by people in the study include a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and taking better care of their health. Finally, those in the study benefited psychologically with higher levels of positive emotions, joy, optimism, and happiness.
Practice of Gratitude
There are plenty of ways to practice gratitude. Try to surround yourself with people and things that you love, and do this as much as possible. Try not to think negatively or hate something. Instead, think positively about the alternatives in your life. Be mindful of the language you use when describing the people, places, and events of your day. In general, be more appreciative of life. Below are a few more tips for practicing gratitude.
Keep a journal of people, people’s actions, or events in your life that make you feel thankful. This journal can be in the form of writing. With today’s technology, it might be easier to send yourself a text or email message. Challenge yourself to do this consistently for at least one week, or try for a 30-day challenge. Identify at least one thing that makes you feel gratitude. It may be clean water, your oven, a meal you ate that day, friends or family you saw that day, your vehicle or public transportation that allows you to get out and about, or the places you visited.
Sure, things in our life could be better. But it could also be much worse. Try to picture yourself or what your life would be like if you didn’t have what you do have. Or, imagine what your life would be like if you hadn’t received goodwill or unique circumstances that helped you to achieve certain advancements others may not have been able to achieve. Perhaps on a simpler level, think about the seven basic human needs for survival and if your resources were limited. Then, reflect on what you do have in your life, and realizing the difference or the gap between the two sets of circumstances may help you to find peace and be thankful that you do enjoy what you have. Similarly, remembering times in your past when things weren’t going well compared to your current situation recognizing the difference between then and now can help with feeling grateful. Finally, meditation, contemplation, or repeating affirmations or mantras can also help to shift your mindset to an attitude of gratitude.
Contemplate Peace, Love & Gratitude
“It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.”
“The most powerful weapon against your daily battles is finding the courage to be grateful anyway.”
For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.