When I lie on my back and look up at the Milky Way on a clear night and see the vast distances of space and reflect that these are also vast differences of time as well, when I look at the Grand Canyon and see the strata going down, down, down, through periods of time which the human mind can’t comprehend . . . it’s a feeling of sort of an abstract gratitude that I am alive to appreciate these wonders, when I look down a microscope it’s the same feeling, I am grateful to be alive to appreciate these wonders.
The concept of gratitude is described in different ways as an emotion, a virtue or an attitude. Whatever your understanding of gratitude, often, it is defined by a two-step process: 1) “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.” (Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough). Yet, whatever your disposition in regard to its meaning, interestingly, gratitude is not simply a cultural creation. Scientific research has shown that the concept is embedded in our evolutionary development. For instance, it has been observed that birds, vampire bats or fish, incur some costs to themselves in helping another member of their species, in view that it might be beneficial to them, eventually. Furthermore, scientists suggest that gratitude has been developed gradually from this “tit for tat” behaviour better known as “reciprocal altruism”. A process that is based on turning strangers into friends who will likely help one another. Further studies on chimpanzees support this idea that these primates share food with another of their kind if they have been groomed or helped by them in the past. Or, studies from neuroscience have observed some areas in the brain that involve experiencing and expressing gratitude.
Consequently, gratitude is an inherent cognitive response which is strongly associated with greater happiness and better physical health. Apparently, a study has shown that the heart health of people improves when they show appreciation which is an emotion related to gratitude. Regardless of how you feel, express or your perception of gratitude, undeniably this emotion builds stronger relationships, creates good experiences, increase our well-being and cultivates optimistic attitude. Not to mention, gratitude has psychological benefits perceived as an intervention to overcome negativity. Moreover, individuals who have a grateful disposition are better protected from various forms of burnout. For instance, athletes who have grateful mindsets are less prone to burn the candle at both ends.
Nevertheless, the ability to be grateful requires seeds of humility and the willingness to develop intelligently our disposition. One of the most effective ways to cultivate gratitude is to keep a journal. Studies have found that “counting your blessings” for 10 weeks and keeping them in a gratitude journal, increase the feeling of optimism and improves life satisfaction, self-esteem and importantly decrease symptoms of depression. Knowing well, that as humans we are more sensitive to negative emotions than positive. For instance, we will be very unhappy if things are taken away from us than if we were to receive a gift. Needless to say that being grateful does not translate into living a modest life with no ambition. On the contrary, gratitude is one of the essential components of self-improvement. It starts with full awareness of what can possibly go wrong, what can we be grateful for, nurture a positive mindset, build on our skills to reach our goals and progress.
In the meantime, remember:
Learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want.
Featured image by Perfectionist Magazine