The Power of Gratitude
My coonhound Ollie is a grateful dog, we went camping last month and he found a small, dirty rag to sleep on. He scratched at it from every direction, spinning round and round until the bed was just right, and then plopped down with a satisfied groan. This was not a groan of discontent, but rather an expression of gratitude. Ollie doesn’t care that his bed is a dirty old rage, he is simply being grateful for a master who feeds him and takes him camping.
So if a dog can be happy with so little, why are we so unappreciative? Adam and Eve found themselves in a similar situation in the Garden of Eden, they had so much to be grateful for, but chose to rebel instead. All their needs were covered by God, yet they chose to sample the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and unleashed the sins of covetousness, enmity, and ingratitude.
My pastor, Xavier Reese, facetiously says we live in Christian Disneyland, a place where all our perceived entitlements are granted and no one is allowed to offend us. Of course, this is all make believe. Reality sets in when we get up every morning only because we have to, then grumble our way through the day, and lastly go to bed knowing that the same scenario waits for tomorrow.
Gratitude is important because it is giving ourselves the permission to finally be happy. We hear about it before every meal but hardly ever apply it to our own lives. Gratitude does not focus on what we want, but it is being thankful for what we have. It’s not taking things for granted but taking time out of our day to really think about how blessed we already are. Many people think it’s easier for successful people to be thankful because they have so much. However, everyone has problems and money won’t solve all of them. If anything, successful people are more unappreciative than the poor.
Too often we are caught up in the jumble of coveting what our friends want and obsessing over things we don’t have. True happiness does not come from these things, or as Frederick Keonig the German inventor once said “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” When we allow gratitude into our lives, we can be content. Not only will it bring you happiness, but will also remind us of the positive aspects of life. It reminds us that even through obstacles or trials, we still have so much to be grateful for. Whether it is a place to sleep or clothes to wear, there is always light in the darkest of situations. Gratitude can change your life because it is the single, most powerful source of inspiration that any person can receive if they make an effort.
But gratitude is not just good for your happiness, it can significantly improve your mental and physical capabilities. From your mental health and wellness, to your emotional fortitude, spiritual aptitude, and your physical strength can all be derived from the simple and basic behavior of gratitude. Gratitude improves the quality of life. You are the sum of all your parts, and it’s gratitude that can help benefit each of those small parts. One of the reasons why gratitude can improve your life is because it shifts your focus. Proverbs 11:27 says, “If you search for good, you will find favor; but if you search for evil, it will find you!” Gratitude is habit forming. When we focus on it, we find more of it. However, if we live in a state of constant jealousy and negativity, then we see more of that.
It’s extremely easy to see something in a negative light by counting all the problems and dilemmas surrounding every situation. However, it’s also easy to see things in a positive light, even when problems arise. My friend Julie is just like this. Even when something goes wrong, she looks for the silver-lining. And if she can’t find one, she simply states that something good will eventually come out of whatever she’s going through and that it’s all part of God’s master plan.
However, even she will admit it’s not just about being a positive person; having gratitude can change your life because it breathes positivity into everything you’re doing. It’s a monumental shift in focus, a new way of seeing things, one that involves a wild-eyed appreciation for the beauty of all things. You move from living in a state of insufficiency, to living in a state of complete wonder at all the magnitude of your blessings.
Gratitude can also improve your life by making you happier. Studies have confirmed that having gratitude does in fact make you feel happier. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons from the University of California, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami, have committed much of their research careers to studying the effects of gratitude.
During the course of a week, a few groups were told to write a few entences about different subjects. One group was instructed to write about things that made them unhappy. Another was instructed to write about things that they were grateful for.
The results? The group instructed to write about what they were grateful for were much more optimistic about their lives than the group that had focused on things that made them unhappy. When we’re grateful for things, it’s a natural occurrence to be happier about life. Being grateful is a state of abundance. It instills the belief that you’re thankful for what you have, right now, rather than worrying about what you don’t have or won’t have at some future point in time.
Often, we save our gratitude for one day of the year — Thanksgiving. But on that day, we often wonder why we are only grateful one day of the year. Why can’t we be grateful every day of the year? We don’t need to reserve a special day to be grateful but can instead completely abolish much of our trials by being grateful every single day.
Gratitude can improve your life by strengthening and enhancing your faith. There’s a deep-rooted appreciation for things that arise when people are grateful. In fact, it becomes instilled into their very being. Therefore, it strengthens their faith and belief in all things. For me, it’s my belief in God and the realization that I am beyond doubt reliant on Him for everything in my life.
Gratitude can transform your faith by instilling the belief that you’re not alone; whatever it is that you’re going through will pass, and you’ll emerge victorious. You’ll accomplish your goals, overcome your obstacles, and become a better person, one who’s more compassionate to the troubles of others.
As a result of all of this, you’ll seek out ways you can contribute to society and your fellow people. You’ll search for opportunities because you realize that what you have truly is enough and that the focus must become benefiting those around you. That’s when true spiritual enlightenment begins.
Now that we know the benefits of gratitude, how can we apply it to our daily life? Often times we are so focused on things that are wrong with our life, that we get distracted, waste time, and engage in pursuits that hinder us rather than help us. Instead, create a platform of gratitude by building this habit in the morning. Interweave it into your early-morning routine by sitting down for just 5 minutes, and then writing everything you have to be grateful for. No matter how small it might be, even if it’s just the mere fact that able to get up that morning, write it down and exemplify that feeling.
Some things we are grateful may include food, shelter, and clothing. These things in are life are items that we almost expext to be there. However, for many, these luxuries don’t exist. But your list can be simpler than that. I’m grateful for that I can smile, that I can walk, or even that there is fresh air to breathe. Many times we forget about those things until they come into jeopardy.
Just like how my dog Ollie is extremely grateful for that small dirty rag, I can be grateful for the small things in my life. Ollie is not focusing on how he doesn’t have a five star hotel bed to sleep on but basks in the blissful ignorance of knowing that his needs are covered. He knows how lucky and fortunate he is to have a place to sleep at all. In the same way, count your blessings instead of your misfortunes. You will never run out of either, but I choose happiness. Gratitude can truly change and transform your life. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Nothing ever does.
If you can’t be grateful to your fellow man, at least you can be grateful to God.