Back Chat - The emotional muscle of Gratitude
I find it fascinating that in America, they have a designated day to be thankful. It implies that on every other day it’s normal to be apathetic, dissatisfied, and disappointed. And many people seem to think it’s somehow gauche or naïve to be too grateful. Not everyone thinks that they have anything to be grateful for given this insane world we live in. That sentiment is not uncommon. But do you know that experiencing gratitude can positively impact both your mental/emotional state and your ability to achieve the life you want?
What is this gratitude that we all talk about and are encouraged to do so regularly? Gratitude is simply “the quality of being thankful.” To get in touch with what this feels like, remember the last time you narrowly avoided a bad consequence: braked just in time to avoid a car accident; got a “good bill of health” on an important medical test; caught yourself before taking a very bad fall. You feel a wash of adrenaline, and then a heartfelt thank God (even if you’re not religious). You have an immediate, crystal clear sense of how fortunate you are – not to have crashed your car, not to have a disease, not to have broken your neck. All at once, you appreciate being alive and whole as the gift that it is, a fragile and wonderful state of affairs, something for which you are profoundly grateful.
I’m reminded of what transpired this year. As a nation we had a lot to deal with. It feels like yesterday when we woke up to that dreadful news that Oscar Pistorius shot his beautiful girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on St Valentine Day and the tedious trial that followed. Very recently, the world was shocked at the news that the residential building at Prophet TB Joshua’s SCOAN compound had collapsed and over 140 people had lost their lives, about 84 of which were South African. As I sit here almost two months later, the remains of the deceased are still in Nigeria. I dread the day when their remains will be brought back home and can only hope that the counselling that has been provided to the families by government and everyone involved has been comforting. Just one month ago, we mourned the death of three sports athletes and witnessed Oscar Pistorius going to jail to serve his time. His promising future now looks daunting. Who could’ve thought that a handsome, young talented and successful athlete like Oscar could end up in jail and sit with a criminal record? However, as a nation we’re still standing and that’s something to be grateful for.
Avoiding a real threat to life or limb makes you realise that feeling grateful is not actually dependent upon having achieved certain things. Gratitude is closely related to happiness (people who feel gratitude on a regular basis self-report being happier). Happiness is not dependent on income, social position, or age. Researchers have found that some people simply approach their lives with an attitude of thankfulness — and some people rarely feel thankful at all, no matter how wealthy, powerful, beautiful, or healthy they may be.
Gratitude is an emotional muscle, one that can (and should) be used and strengthened. People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.
People who are grateful not only seek out more successes, they draw successes into their lives. When you are grateful, others like to be around you. Your appreciation includes and supports them. You help them see the positive elements inherent in daily life, and to feel more hopeful about the possibility of future success.
Customers (and potential customers) love to feel that you are grateful for their business; it creates strong bonds of loyalty and mutual support. Employees are more committed and productive when they know that you are thankful to have them on your team. Great resources and partners of all sorts are attracted to you when they feel appreciated for who they are and what they bring to the party. Your relationships with family and friends are more likely to be loving and supportive when you express your gratitude for all that they bring to your life. And gratitude feels wonderful, too. It’s like a warm emotional light, shining within you to banish greed, bitterness, selfishness, jealousy, envy, meanness – all the most limiting and corrosive emotions.
Try being grateful every day and you may notice, over time, a real change in the whole trajectory of your life. You may find that your efforts to create the career you want and to have a satisfying life are increasingly successful. You’ll begin to have a practical experience of the positive impact of approaching your life with a focus on gratitude. Which will give you even more to be grateful about.
One of the marvellous things about gratitude is that it has no upper limit, as far as I can tell. You can be as grateful as you want to be. And what better time to start than right now? With all that has happened in your life this year. With all that has happened in your life this year - whatever you’ve lost that has challenged your optimism, whatever bad situation or debilitating illness you’ve encountered - through it all you’re still standing. That alone is enough for you to be grateful for.