A thoughtful observer once said, “For something to change in your life, one of two things has to happen — your life changes or you do.” To passively wait for life to change your trajectory is like hoping your financial problems will be solved by winning the lottery. A distractingly pleasant fantasy perhaps, but as a life strategy, it is lunacy. What is more, it sidelines you as a passive observer, rather than being the franchise player you were meant to be on the “My Life” team.
There are many actions that can bring change to your life, but few are as significant as cultivating the mindset of gratitude. Frankly, without it, your mind will drift into the black hole of victimization, envy and narcissism. As author Shauna Niequist said, “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”
Before you dismiss this as some motivational poster with a clever saying and a picture of someone enjoying a sunset or climbing a cliff face, recognize that gratitude is the primary virtue that promotes sociological and psychological health. Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, co-authored the first scholarly work on the subject titled, The Psychology of Gratitude, with Michael McCullough, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami. Emmons described gratitude as “The cardinal moral emotion that promotes cooperation and makes our society civil.” Then added, “Without gratitude, life can be lonely and impoverished.”
Inward and Outward Benefits
Gratitude not only is the cornerstone of civility and teamwork, it has been found that a gratitude mindset results in lower levels of anxiety, envy and depression, while increasing optimism and a sense of well-being.
In one study, middle school students were asked to list five things they were grateful for daily for two weeks. They were then compared to a control group who simply recorded their everyday experiences. The result was the gratitude group reported a greater level of satisfaction with their school experience. As Oprah Winfrey observed, “If you look at what you have in life, you will always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you will never have enough.”
A similar study was done by Paul Mills, a professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, on the role gratitude played in heart health. In his study he found that participants who kept a journal in which on most days they wrote down two or three things they were grateful for showed reduced inflammation and improved heart rhythm. The journal keeping had the impact of reducing the risk of heart disease after only two months. Using brain scans, neuroscientists have found similar “profound” and “long-lasting” effects from this type of journaling.
What Does Gratitude Do?
1. It Creates an Abundance Mindset — Rather than a mindset of lack, be it a lack of opportunity, resources or success, an abundance mindset believes there is enough for everyone to share, myself included.
2. It Generates Solutions — The openness to possibility that comes with gratitude changes perspectives and moves people from the blindness of pessimism to seeing potential that connects ideas and creates results.
3. It Multiplies — Gratitude is quite contagious. Acknowledging your own good fortune and sharing how you have benefited from the character, ingenuity and hard work of others can spread through an office or organization like a rising tide.
It is also worth noting that gratitude has been found to be one of the key ingredients in successful marriages. So, instead of making Thanksgiving an annual holiday, make it a daily habit.