The Effects Of Gratitude Are Cumulative And Life-Affirming
Just acknowledging what we are grateful for changes our worldview from austerity to abundance.
I have been practicing gratitude now for 12 years. I have found that acknowledging the things that I am grateful has had a profound effect on my mind. The first thing I do every morning is write a list of 10 things that I’m grateful for. I do this without fail, every morning. My life is better now than it has ever been. I am happier now than I can remember from any time before I started practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a skill.
I can vaguely recall talking to a friend years ago about my apparent state of misery back then. I had this kind of conversation with him several times and each time, he suggested that I start writing a gratitude list. My handwriting skills were arrested when I was in 3rd grade, but I type reasonably fast, so I took to writing my gratitude list on a computer.
I can remember how contrived it felt to write that list the first few times. I had trouble coming up with things to be grateful for. I was living in an apartment in Utah with my wife and most of our stuff was still in storage in California. At the time I really didn’t think I had that much to be grateful for. I was poor, I had no real prospects for long term employment and income, and I was just starting a new job. But I just made myself start writing that list.
I’m agnostic about everything. I’m with guys like Neils Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger, some of the men who started to figure out quantum mechanics. Their theories, their ideas suggest that most of what we think of as reality isn’t really reality. Quantum mechanics is about probabilities, not certainties. I wrote my gratitude list every morning not because I knew it would work. I wrote that list because I wanted to see if it would work.
So I had to start with something. “I’m alive.” There. That’s a good thing. I’m alive. “I have enough for today.” I have enough of everything I need to live for a day. “There is peace in my home.” I had peace that day. I would just look for the low hanging fruit, stuff that’s easy to say, “I’m grateful for that”, and I wrote it down. It started to flow, on my computer, every day, for the last 12 years.
Once I started writing my gratitude list, I started a new habit. I moved on from resistance to enthusiasm. My lists evolved as I became more comfortable with writing the list. My gratitude lists changed as I became more aware of my surroundings. Gratitude does that to you. Gratitude changes your perspective to the point where you notice new things to be grateful for.
I started writing that list after I had been married for a year, but before we had kids. I kept writing that list regardless of my life circumstances. I write a gratitude list regardless of how I feel, regardless of the drama in my life. Not my monkey, not my circus. I have kept every one of my gratitude lists on file, on my computer, all these years. I keep them to give them substance, to give myself a point of reference, to see my progress.
Keeping a gratitude list, and adding to it every day, changed my perspective even though my life didn’t really change much day to day. But over the course of a decade, my life has substantially improved. I think that is because once I accepted the gifts I already had, however meager they were, I could see more gifts in life. And they just kept coming.
I bought a house, had a kid, sold the first house, bought a second house, had another kid, and I just kept growing from there. My income grew along with my gratitude. By making a habit of gratitude, I kept the glass half full all the time. I moved my focus from what I didn’t have to what I had.
I began to take notice of things to be grateful for throughout the day, too. I began to notice that I could look around myself on any day, under any circumstances, and see something to be grateful for. The sky, the sun, the clouds, the air, the water, the grass, and everything outside. I did the same thing inside, too. I noticed the things we had, like a TV, a stereo, a bed to sleep in for everyone, clothes to wear, a computer, the water filter, the water softener, and on and on. I got to the point where I could look in any room and find something to be grateful for. I could close my eyes and still find something to be grateful for. I have come to a place in my life where I can always find something to be grateful for.
Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is a frame of mind. Gratitude is a perspective. Gratitude is a skill and that skill requires practice.
I have noticed that gratitude presages abundance. When I started, I didn’t have much abundance in my life. That’s because I couldn’t see it. I can’t notice what I have without gratitude. I can’t be happy about what I have without noticing it.
I write the gratitude list and I’m happier for it. As I traverse the day, I notice more things to be grateful for. I don’t really talk about it during the day. I just take quiet notice of things that I’m grateful for throughout the day. By late afternoon, I experience something like joy. I have bouts of happiness when I practice gratitude. Years of practicing gratitude create an experience called, contentment.
I think of gratitude as a skill. If you practice unhappiness, you will get to be unhappy. If you spend your days noticing what you lack, you will focus on what you lack. You will get more of what you lack, think of what you lack, wish for what you don’t have, and notice that you still lack that which you want. In that frame of mind, you will have been practicing envy, jealousy, and deprivation. I did that, too, before I started practicing gratitude.
So I practice the skill of gratitude every day. I don’t have bad days, for that would mean that the day is out to get me. A bad day is personal. I just have challenging days where the problems I encounter require extra effort to solve. I don’t take the problems I encounter personally. I just assume that if I apply myself, I will solve the problem or get the help I need to solve the problem with someone else. When I practice gratitude, I have a foundation I can stand upon to solve the problems I encounter. I have the patience I need to solve most, if not all problems. Gratitude is a can opener.
When I practice gratitude, I err on the side of abundance. When I practice gratitude, I let the lack go, and focus on what I have to work with. And then I work with it. When I am in the habit of practicing gratitude, I have a greater capacity for patience, compassion, and empathy. God only knows the world could use more of that.
I write this article to plant a seed. I like to plant seeds. I write this article in the hopes that by just sharing my ideas on gratitude, ideas that I learned from someone else by the way, that someone else will begin to practice gratitude. I want someone else to know that the practice of gratitude has cumulative, life-affirming effects. Gratitude tends towards peace. I like to imagine what the world would be like if 7.8 billion people practice gratitude every day.