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The Art of Gratitude

Updated on August 21, 2016
Alyssa Nichol profile image

Alyssa has studied psychology, philosophy, religion, and the arts. She loves sharing her thoughts, ideas, and papers with the world.

"Gratitude is not just a word; it is a way of life." -Rob Martin

Gratitude is a powerful practice that can have a positive effect on your overall happiness and well being. When you focus on what have and begin to truly appreciate everything in your life, your perspective will shift. This has a ripple effect. Soon, your attitude is transformed and you have a better outlook on life.

When life is good, it is easy to express gratitude. It comes naturally for most. Receiving a gift or winning a prize floods you with feelings of happiness and joy, maybe you get excited, and you feel appreciative and grateful. The challenge lies in practicing gratitude when life presents obstacles or times get tough. When a loved one is sick, you lose your job, or your life gets completely turned upside down in some other way, it's easy and absolutely normal to feel anger, sadness, depression - any number of negative emotions. It is in the darkest times that gratitude has the most power.

Gratitude is a choice. It takes practice and conscious effort - every single day.

"Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything."
-Alan Cohen

Practicing gratitude sometimes takes a lot of inner strength. But it is extremely powerful. You can’t always control your circumstances. But you can control how you react to them.

“Life is 10% of what happens to you, 90% of how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

Gratitude - A practical approach

Being thankful isn't just for the month of November. There are multiple ways in which to express gratitude for the people and the things in your life throughout the entire year.

Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Every night, before I fall asleep, I think of my day and all that has happened. I give thanks for the opportunities that life presented before me, for my husband and my son, and for anything amazing that happened that day.

Exercise has many benefits and is a great way to start appreciating your body and what it is capable of accomplishing. Yoga, in particular, has taught me many things, both on and off the mat. Most importantly, it has really helped me connect with the present moment, accepting what is at that time, and expressing gratitude for simply being here; for being alive.

"That breath you just took. That is a gift." -Rob Bell

Connecting with nature is a great way to cultivate gratitude. Looking up at the sky, watching the clouds, and working in your garden are ways that allow you to appreciate the world. Go explore a local or state park. Going to the beach and staring out at the water has an amazing healing effect and will shift your perspective. Star gazing will cause an incredible humbling effect and will inspire deep thoughts - just think about how small you are in comparison to the universe.

When life becomes challenging, I try to take a step back, pause, and actively seek out things for which to be thankful - Even something as small as just having a cup of coffee or the sun shining out my window. It’s amazing how that changes my attitude. Once I’ve gained a little perspective, I am able to take a look at the entire situation, and it is much easier to feel grateful for the lesson.

“What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”
― J. Sidlow Baxter

In the video below, Robert Emmons discusses more ways to cultivate gratitude in a variety of situations.

Robert Emmons:Cultivating Gratitude - The Greater Good Science Center

Gratitude and mindfulness

There is interesting theory in the field of psychology, dealing with thoughts and how they shape a person's development over time. Cognitive theory holds that emotions follow thoughts. Essentially, our thoughts shape our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. This simple idea has inspired countless studies on gratitude, how it shapes people's lives, and how it effects their level of happiness.

This is a compelling idea. What you think directly effects how you feel - emotions follow thoughts.

The art of gratitude fits right in here. When you practice gratitude, you change your mindset. You shift your focus to the good in your life. Your attitude changes and you begin to feel happier.

Final Thoughts

I would love to hear your thoughts on gratitude and how you practice it in your own life. I will leave you with these thoughts.

There is always something for which to be thankful.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” -Melanie Beattie


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    • Alyssa Nichol profile image

      Alyssa 12 months ago from Ohio

      Thank you! I'm glad that I was able to help! Keeping looking for the good and take one day at a time. I hope that everything turns out for the best. I am sending thoughts of positive energy your way!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 12 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is exactly what I needed to hear today! Thanks for the reminder that it is how I respond to the situations in my life that determine my level of happiness and productivity. Right now, things are not going well, and I need all of the positive energy that I can get to move forward through the transition that is before me. The quotes were very helpful!