It is a sad fact that it is easier to dwell on the negative than the positive. Two specific reasons for this come to mind. First, according to Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University, this is because negative and positive information are processed in different hemispheres of the brain and negative information, apparently, gets more attention as it requires more thinking. It is, in fact, processed more thoroughly than positive information. Therefore, it is remembered longer and is more easily recalled. So, do not be too hard on yourself if you tend toward seeing the negative more often than the positive in life. However, there are strategies for overcoming this trait, and gratitude fits right into the plan.
A second reason we focus on the negative is due to signals we receive from the media around us. Advertising plays a huge role in our lives. The things of the world are constantly paraded before us: luxury cars, exotic vacations, gourmet foods, expensive clothing and perfumes, homes with every amenity we could dream of. It’s all presented in a way that leads us to believe that having these “things” will instantly make us happier, more successful, and more popular.
The Hebrew term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means, literally, “recognizing the good.” As we attempt to overcome the effects of our human physiology and the heavy role that advertising plays in our lives, gratitude will help to set our feet on a path to appreciation and happiness—and help us to train our brains to recognize the good and focus more attention on it. There are, literally, thousands of reasons to feel positive and to focus on what is good in our lives. As we do, our gratitude will soar. So, don’t accept that you were “just born that way” and can’t overcome the tendency to dwell on the negative. YOU CAN! Honing your sense of gratitude will help you every step of the way.
Being grateful is a many-dimensional thing. It’s not just saying “thank-you” or remembering to send a note to someone for his kindness. It’s really a way of relating to the world around us, and that relationship can transform us into a person who is able to take life’s upsets in stride, see beyond the obvious, and give reason for hope and joy.
Gratitude is an attribute of POWER. Not the kind of power that flaunts itself to control others, but the kind of power that exerts itself to lift the spirit and elevate a person’s outlook on life. When gratitude becomes the lens through which we see life we find that we can be grateful in circumstances that are less than optimal. Why? Because true gratitude allows us to see the benefits of our situation. Those benefits may only be that we are learning greater patience, self-control or compassion. They may be that we are experiencing things we’ve never experienced before. A situation—even a very difficult one–that is examined through the eyes of gratitude will always yield some lesson or blessing of value.
Gratitude is a life changer and a life enhancer. In fact, it changes US. We find ourselves becoming more sensitive and appreciative of little things, as well as big things. We see the value of people and delight in the accomplishments of others. We learn that nothing is dull or boring because it contains reasons for appreciation and joy. So, while life will still present difficulties, and we will still have concerns that demand our attention, we will also have a more balanced outlook regarding all that is transpiring in our world.
Gratitude is contagious, so encouraging others is often just a matter of being the example. Here are a few suggestions for things you might do to brighten someone’s day as you share your thoughtfulness and gratitude:
- Smile and say “hello” to a stranger.
- Hold a door open for someone.
- Pick up trash along a roadside to make the world more attractive for others who pass by the same route. Sometimes you will notice signs along a road or highway noting an organization or family who has volunteered to keep that stretch of road litter free. Give silent thanks for their efforts.
- Don’t take work relationships for granted. Thank a co-worker for his assistance on a project. Not only will it brighten his day, it will make for a more productive and happy work environment.
- Help an elderly person, or someone with kids, put his/her groceries in the car.
- Take a few items from the pantry shelf and drop them off at a local food bank or collection site. Many small contributions add up and make a big difference for families who are struggling.
- Visit an elderly resident of a nursing home. Sing songs, ask about his/her childhood, greatest adventure, schooling or work life. It will give hours of happiness to someone who may be very lonely.
- Spontaneously join a neighbor and help out as they weed a vegetable garden or flower bed.
- Write a note to your pastor, bishop, or other religious leader and let him/her know how much you appreciated the message at this week’s worship service.
There is a Buddhist saying, “If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” There are so many ways to express love and appreciation as we go about our daily routines, or take advantage of special opportunities. Simple as they are, they make a difference to those who are touched by our thoughtfulness, and they brighten our day, as well!
Have you ever noticed that it can be much easier to feel grateful and be a good example when you are out in public? Home should be our haven, right? In reality, it is often the place where stress levels are high and we forget our manners: kids are being kids (i.e.noisy and rambunctious), tempers flare, and patience seems hard to come by. Here are 10 simple ideas for changing the atmosphere and restoring peace and gratitude:
- Make the bed for a family member who was in a hurry this morning. If you have time, leave a note. Something simple like: “The bed making fairy was here.”
- Talk to your child about the day he or she was born, and the excitement you felt with his arrival.
- Put the children to bed early (or leave them with a neighbor) and make your wife a candlelight dinner. Keep the conversation positive and focused on what’s important to her.
- Fix your husband breakfast and bring it to him in bed. Discuss his plans for the day.
- Ask your spouse or child what his/her most cherished dream is. Consider how you can help it come true.
- Find a jar, decorate it, and place some positive words inside, each on a separate slip of paper: happy; smile; thanks; fortunate; beautiful; capable; friendly; appreciated; peaceful; nurturing; accomplished; abundant, etc. Remove one word each day and use it in your conversations.
- Have a special family night where everyone is given the opportunity to express one thing they admire about each family member. No one is allowed to repeat what someone else has said. Sit in a circle and let everyone take a turn. When our children were growing up we did this once or twice a year.
- Read bedtime stories instead of watching television.
- Work side by side with your child doing the after-dinner cleanup. Talk about your child’s day, or take time to express some things you notice and admire about him/her.
- Have a one-on-one ice cream date with a child or your spouse.
Make it a habit to mix these and other ideas into your weekly routine. They will help create an atmosphere of love and appreciation for everyone at home!
First, it is important to realize that we are often our own worst critics. All of us make mistakes, and most of us make many mistakes. When you do something wrong, just know you are in good company. Former pro basketball player, Michael Jordan is reported to have said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Dale Carnegie was a businessman who developed a program for public speaking that has been successful for years. Take a moment to read a brief overview of his life at http://www.dalecarnegie.org/
His lifetime of experience was replete with failures; yet, overall, he was wildly successful. In fact, he said, “Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” He was a man who believed his own words and followed his own instruction!!
Failure is just a part of the process of getting to success. If we can stop shunning failure and look to see what it has to teach us, we will find that, even in failure, there is much for which to be grateful. For instance, failure can teach us how NOT to do something. The most successful sports figures, businessmen, and inventors have recognized the important role that initial failure played as they strove toward success. You, too, can make that discovery and be grateful for what you learn each time your efforts fall short of the mark.
Often times a lack of peace comes because we feel alone or that our life is out of control. Because a sense of gratitude is a constant reminder that others are blessing our life, it can help us to very quickly realize that others do care about us and our circumstances. That realization can lend a sense of peace.
Gratitude is an attribute—perhaps the primary attribute—that connects us to Deity. As we look out upon the natural world, taking in and appreciating its wonder and beauty, we realize there is a power and creative force at work in the universe. As we give thanks for these wonders, our hearts and minds are turned to a source of power far beyond our own. Many acknowledge this force as God, and feel not only appreciation for His handiwork but also a security and peace in knowing that someone all-knowing is in charge. For those who hold to this faith, there are many comforting passages of scripture that also bear testimony to God’s omnipotent and omniscient capacity and concern. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thin own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psalms 138:8).
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4),
Gratitude is, in many ways, a yielding up of our attitude of self-sufficency—at least enough to acknowledge that God and others give much to our lives that would be lacking if we had to do all things on our own. Therefore, gratitude not only helps to give us a sense of peace, it also helps to engender humility.
There are many ways to become a more grateful person. Here are some of my favorite ideas for developing the habit of viewing life through the lens of gratitude:
- Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down five things that occurred that day for which you feel grateful, or that you regard as a blessing. At the end of each week, review your daily lists. Say a prayer of thanks for all the blessings that have graced your life that week.
- Take time to go out into nature and just observe the beauty around you. Engage your senses as you take time to smell, touch, taste, feel, and listen to your surroundings. Allow yourself time to remember other occasions when you were out in nature and delighted in the marvels of God’s creations. As children we probably spent a good deal of time outdoors. Think back to the things that engaged your attention and wonder. Can you recall the feelings? Can you regenerate them? It’s a great exercise!
- Visit an art museum and take in the variety of works that are on display. Allow plenty of time to observe the various exhibits—sculpture, artifacts, photographs, paintings. Enjoy the various styles, color pallets, sizes and types of art as you take in the multitude of ways artists have found to express their creativity. Concerts halls, theaters, and libraries also allow for observing a wide range of creative expression. So, don’t sit at home, get out and enjoy the contributions that have come from the workings of so many creative minds.
- Take time—whether at home, visiting friends or eating out at a restaurant—to smell, taste and really enjoy your food. If you or your host has taken the time to make the presentation beautiful, that’s just another reason for feelings of appreciation. I love good food and find it a frequent cause for expressing thanks!
Some people will tell you that having a grateful attitude will put you into alignment with the universe and all good things will be attracted to you. I don’t have such a mystical or magical view of gratitude. I can assure you, however, that gratitude will make your life a better one, and your relationships will benefit by your attitude of appreciation.
As you take time to recognize your blessings you will simply feel more positive about life, and you will get more enjoyment out of each day. It’s fun to reflect back on our day and realize the many ways in which our life was positively influenced. It is uplifting and enriching to realize that we have been graced in many small—and sometimes large—ways.
As you express your gratitude for gifts and favors received, others will recognize you as a person who does not take life’s blessings for granted. Nor do you take for granted those who bestow those blessings. Life is ever so much more enjoyable when we feel that our thoughtfulness is recognized and appreciated. We simply like being around others who value our contribution to their lives. Being ignored when we do something nice does not make for a happy relationship. Being thanked does. It’s that simple.