“Why did this have to happen to me?”
Those words used to come out of my mouth or run through my mind on a daily basis. It didn’t matter if it was something big (my dog gets cancer, business implodes, good friend dies) or something little (overcharged at the deli, flight is delayed, spilled something on my shirt). I was in a constant state of ‘poor me‘. I always wanted something more and couldn’t just be happy.
This all started to change once I began to cultivate a powerful feeling that had laid dormant in me for years…
Gratitude. A feeling of appreciation or thanks. So simple, yet so mighty.
I have been writing a gratitude list every single day for the past 34+ months and it has changed my life profoundly.
You see, I was never someone to look for things to be grateful for. I was always looking for the bad things that happened to me, rather than looking at all of the good things that were happening in my life every single day.
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, has done extensive research on gratitude and discovered that that gratitude is not merely a positive emotion; it also improves your health if cultivated. People must give up a “victim mentality” and overcome a sense of entitlement and deservedness. This has certainly been the case for me.
Here are the 13 most important things I’ve learned on my gratitude journey.
It’s hard at first…
Writing gratitude lists started as a challenge from my mentor. He told me to text him three things that I am grateful for EVERYDAY.
Sounds pretty easy right?
Well, it wasn’t .
When you’ve lived most of your life NOT focusing on gratitude, it’s not so simple to change that. Coming up with lists during those early days was challenging. Especially if I was having (what I thought) was a bad day.
But I learned that…
…there is always something to be grateful for.
No matter what was going on in my life (business problems, I was sick, someone cut me off in traffic, whatever) there was ALWAYS something that I could find to be grateful for.
- My health
- My daughter’s smile
- Clean water to drink
- How excited my dog was to see me when I came home
- Having a phone to text my gratitude list on
- Having someone to text it to
- And on and on
Because I started to notice that…
…gratitude was all around me.
I truly believe that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. This applies to gratitude. Surround yourself with people who are grateful and it will be easier for you to cultivate your own gratitude.
Once I developed an attitude of gratitude I started to notice more and more people with the same.
Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.
— Brian Tracy
Speaking of that attitude of gratitude I began to realize that…
…gratitude grows the more you use it.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
My gratitude lists started off very basic and I struggled to find things to be grateful for (especially on the really tough days) but once I consistently took action and just did them, it became easier and easier.
My lists grew to 4 items and then eventually to 6 and now they are usually more than 20 things. And those 20+ take me the same amount of time as it used to take me to come up with 3! Gratitude was no different than anything else, I simply had to practice and get better at it.
But in order to do this, I had to change how I thought about gratitude and came to realize that…
…it’s a complete mind-shift.
Writing a gratitude list, and actually being thankful, slowly started to change my entire mind and my way of thinking.
I found that I could be grateful for just about anything, even the bad stuff.
- Sick with a cold? I could be grateful for my health when I’m not sick.
- Lost a business? I could be grateful for the opportunity to start over.
- Someone is rude to me? I could be grateful that they were showing me a good example of who I don’t want to be.
The funny thing about these examples and this line of thinking in general is that I don’t necessarily see these gifts as they are happening. But I’m often able to look back and realize that they were all happening for a reason. To show me something. To teach me. And for that I can be grateful.
Which led me to understanding that…
…it’s almost never about the ‘cash and prizes’.
I once met this old man at a coffee shop in Tampa, FL and got to talking to him for awhile. He was one of the happiest people I had ever met. He just had this aura of peace about him.
As we were talking he told me that he lives “a life beyond his wildest dreams.” So I figured that this guy was super-rich.
He told me how much gratitude he had in his life. About all of the amazing things he has been able to experience. He just had a simple joy for living.
We both left around the same time and said our good-byes. As I was walking towards my car, I noticed him getting into an old beat-up Lincoln Towncar and I realized something…
He either doesn’t have a lot of money or if he does, he doesn’t really care to show it off in any way.
I realized that gratitude doesn’t have to equal lots of cash and prizes. Gratitude is something that you get on the inside not the outside.
Which helped me to realize that…
…the more gratitude you have, the more you open yourself up for abundance.
“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.”
— Anthony Robbins
When you focus on the things that you are grateful for, it opens you to the source of all those things that came into your life.
Gratitude allows you to come into full harmony with the Universe. It can best be summed up with this simple statement:
If you’re not thankful for what you have, why should you get anything more?
As Deepak Chopra explains in the video below, it also removes your ego, which helps you get in touch with your spirit (your true self). It’s not possible to have ego, identity and gratitude at the same time. The highest level of gratitude is the gratitude for existence itself.
This led me to the discovery that…
…gratitude has very important moral functions.
In a study put out by the American Psychological Association, researchers suggested that the positive emotion of gratitude has three important moral functions and that it serves as a:
- Moral barometer (we acknowledge and respond to to the perception that we have been the beneficiary of another person’s kindness or good)
- Moral motivator (it motivates us to want to do good things for other people)
- Moral reinforcer (it strengthens our resolve to want to do good in the future)
Simply put — we get good, we do good, we become better.
Which leads to another important function of gratitude and that…
… it can increase and sustain positive emotion.
In a 2003 study, two psychologists asked participants in a study to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics each week:
- The first group wrote about things they were grateful for.
- The second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them.
- The third group wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on the positive or negative).
After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.
Not only can it help you become happier but…
…it can help stop negative thought patterns.
According to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, the average person has about 70,000 thoughts each day! Most of these thoughts are very similar and simply repeat over and over in our heads each day. There’s one big problem with this — the vast majority of these thoughts are negative.
It’s not always a matter of simply telling our minds DON’T THINK THIS NEGATIVE THOUGHT NOW. Because guess what our minds do? They start to think about that negative thought (they just ignore the don’t part). As the famed psychotherapist Carl Jung said “What you resist persists.”
Gratitude can work to arrest and replace these negative thought patterns by replacing it with something positive.
Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal for 2014 was to write a thank you note each day. The reason? To express more gratitude and help arrest negative thought patterns:
“It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person.I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we’re doing so well on so many of these things. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that.”
Which helps you discover that…
…life becomes more enjoyable.
I want you to think about two different people for a moment…
Bob is always complaining. Nothing ever seems to be good enough for him. He’s always pissed off about something and telling you about all the things that are wrong with the world. You know Bob pretty well and the crazy thing is, he has so many good things in his life (great family, good job, takes vacations, he’s healthy) but it doesn’t matter. It’s never enough.
Then there’s Gavin, the guy who always seems to be happy. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in his life, he has this glow about him. He wants to tell you about the good stuff going on, not to brag but to share and lift you up.
On the outside, Gavin and Bob are pretty much the same person except Gavin has gratitude in his life. He is thankful for what he has.
Which person do you enjoy being around more? Which person do you think enjoys their life more?
…you develop a fundamental belief that the world is good.
Someone once told me that we have one choice to make each day: Do I believe that the world is a good place or a bad place? If I believe in the former, I’m going to attract more good into my life.
Should I be grateful today?
If I can answer that with a YES (regardless of what’s going on) I’m going to find more things to be grateful for. I’m going to attract more and more good into my life. I’m going to see the good in the world.
And once you have gratitude, there is something else you need to do…
…you have to share it.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
–William Arthur Ward
Gratitude is a gift. One of the greatest joys that we get to experience in this world is giving gifts and making people’s lives better. When you express your gratitude for someone or something, you are sharing that gift.
Want to improve your mood in 26 seconds right now? Leave a comment below with something you are grateful for today.