Why Gratitude Is Important to a Happy and Meaningful Life
A Life of Gratitude Will Make You Happier and Healthier
An Attitude of Gratitude Makes for a Happier Life
Four years ago, I weighed 40 pounds more than I do now. All my activities as a teacher, wife, and mother were severely restricted by my excess baggage, making me tired and apathetic. Because I lost confidence in myself, a perceptive but merciless supervisor took advantage of my vulnerability, treating me rudely and greatly increasing my workload. I was struggling to parent my two sons (one with autism) and taking Zoloft to deal with anxiety and depression. I was in a zombie-like state, going through the motions of life but not feeling much of anything—no sadness, yes, but also no joy and excitement.
It's said alcoholics must hit rock bottom before they're ready to surrender to their disease and start the road to recovery. Although not a drinker, I was certainly at that lowest of low points, realizing I had to find a deeper purpose and make huge changes in my life. That's when I turned to gratitude and placed it at the center of my existence. According to the latest scientific research, living a life full of gratitude has the following benefits:
- It improves physical health. Grateful people are more pro-active about taking care of themselves—going to the doctor, exercising, and eating nutritious foods.They experience fewer aches and pains.
- It enhances psychological well-being. Grateful people are happier and less stressed out. They're less likely to experience negative emotions such as jealousy, anger, and regret.
- It promotes better sleep.
- It promotes self-esteem.
- It makes us more empathetic and sensitive.
- It makes us more friendly and appealing. People respond favorably to those who show appreciation. A warm smile, a friendly "thank you," and basic good manners help us build new connections—both personal and professional.
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.— Robert Brault
Gratitude Turns a Pessimist Into an Optimist
In addition to overhauling my life—quitting my job, weaning myself off anti-depressants, and addressing my crappy childhood—I started reading about ways to find peace and joy. What kept coming up again and again is that contentment comes from within and involves a deep appreciation for everything in our lives: our health, our family and friends, our careers, our pets, nature, books, movies, travel, love, and adventures. Instead of numbing myself with prescription drugs, I started doing the opposite—opening up myself to experience life more fully. I began living in the moment—slowing down to notice the wonders around me and not taking anything for granted. I tuned out the negativity that had once engulfed me, especially those critical messages that came from within my very own head. This is what wise teachers told me about living a life grounded in gratitude:
Oprah Winfrey: Jot Down 5 Things You're Grateful for Every Day
Oprah Winfrey—Make Gratitude a Part of Your Daily Routine
As a talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey (media mogul) is one of the most influential people in the world. From humble beginnings, she found enormous success in life and credits gratitude for helping her along the way. As fans of hers know, she has a long-standing daily habit of writing down five things she's grateful for in her gratitude journal.
If it works for Oprah, I decided to try it for myself with amazing results. It made me pay attention to all the simple things that bring me joy: eating a slice of watermelon on a hot summer day, playing Scrabble with my husband, sitting by the fire and reading the newspaper, listening to my boys talk in their bedroom before falling asleep, sipping green tea while folding the laundry. Little things brought me so much delight and writing them down made me aware of that. It only took minutes out of my day but became an invaluable part of my routine, making me appreciate so much and keeping me focused on the positive.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more, it turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity...it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.— Melody Beattie
Dr. Robert Emmons—Go Through the Motions and the Feelings Will Follow
If you're in a place like I was— a dingy cellar of despair and negativity—it seems unlikely (and even impossible) that you could simply flip a switch and go from gloom to gratitude. Fortunately, Dr. Robert Emmons (psychologist and gratitude scholar) says we don't need to make such a miraculous transformation. He recommends that we simply take concrete actions to express gratitude on a daily basis: smile at those around us, say “thank you” to those who help us, and write little notes to those who touch our lives. When we practice gratitude in our daily lives, the feelings of gratitude will then awaken within us.
His advice made me think of the saying, "fake it 'til you make it," and that became my mantra when I began practicing gratitude. I had become so cynical about the friends and family members who had abandoned me when my son got diagnosed with autism. Now, I had to put those hard feelings aside and consciously look for nice things people were saying and doing. I began to notice and acknowledge any little act of kindness and, as I did so, my heart began to gradually open once again to the goodness of people.
Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.— Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart Tolle—Embrace Your Challenges With Gratitude
When my son was diagnosed with autism, my world turned so bleak and I only saw a future full of struggles for both him and me. When I looked around and saw my friends with healthy, happy kids, I became angry and bitter thinking God was punishing me. It felt like I had no control of my situation and that left me hopeless.
Eckhart Tolle (spiritual teacher and author) convinced me otherwise, making me understand the power of my own thoughts to change my life. By embracing the challenge of having a son with special needs instead of resisting it, I opened up myself to a new and exciting world. I read about treatments to help my child. I met other parents with autistic youngsters, who shared their wisdom and compassion. I marveled at the kindness shown to us by my son's occupational therapist, speech therapist, and doctors. As I accepted the reality of my life, the constant stress I had been feeling started to fade away and I finally experienced some relief. Now, many years later, I feel immense gratitude for the son I have and for all the lessons he taught me about love, patience, and acceptance.
Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey Discuss How Abundance and Gratitude Come From Within
Like so many of us, I've lived in the past, holding on to hurt and resentment, or the future—worrying about bad fortune that may or may not come my way. By reading this book, I learned the huge value of living in the present and creating a life based on gratitude. Eckhart Tolle makes a convincing argument that enjoying a full life means appreciating the here and now and taking in all the wonders around us. Now, whether I'm stuck in traffic or stuck in the laundry room folding clothes, I don't resist my reality. I embrace the situation at hand and make the most of it.
© 2017 McKenna Meyers