Tons of research has been done on the psychological benefits of gratitude. Reading studies is one thing, but coming face to face with grateful clients in my practice is a joy to see and I find that gratitude is uplifting and contagious.
But have you noticed how sometimes, when you pay someone a compliment, rather than saying “thank you”, their spontaneous reaction is to negate what you are saying? “Oh I could have done better”, “it was nothing”, or “well I just got lucky”. This kind of response can be based on the cultural view that accepting praise is egotistical, and in certain cultures there may be other indirect ways to show appreciation rather than giving thanks. But in many cases people who feel unworthy of praise lack gratitude. A mindset that focuses on “should, have to and must” is unappreciative of the way things are, and looking for what’s perceived as missing. Some people have been conditioned to think this way because of demanding parents, a tendency to compare with others, an overdeveloped drive to achieve, or cultural training that stresses putting oneself down in public – but whatever the cause, lack of gratitude leads to feelings of dissatisfaction. A client of mine, who disregards all the positive factors that are present in her life and instead dwells on what “should” be, is emotionally exhausted by her quest for perfection and can’t identify a single thing she’s genuinely grateful for. This is the root cause of her dysthemia. I have several other cases where cognitive errors such as disqualifying the positive, maximizing and minimizing or mental filtering lead to an alarming and disabling lack of gratitude.
On the other hand, I’ve worked with people from cultures where the practice of gratitude is an essential aspect of daily life. Some of these clients embrace gratitude as part of cultural, religious or spiritual practice, while others just embody this virtue as part of healthy psychological resiliency. The self-talk which is generated by a verbal “thanks” or “how kind of you”, is usually self-soothing, self-accepting and self-reassuring. Positivity over-rides negativity in their interpretations of life events. I have even seen extreme gratitude where a young grieving mother whose toddler had drowned in the family swimming pool said “I really really miss him, but thank God I was lucky to have had two years with him, and I am blessed with two other children”. At a deeper level she was expressing her way of finding meaning in this most difficult life situation. While the grief was overwhelming, it was cushioned by gratitude. Not only is gratitude a culturally expected characteristic of leading a good life, but it’s a powerful coping mechanism.
Like any habit, developing a culture of gratitude takes practice. Daily journaling of good things that happened and things you are looking forward to is an excellent ritual. Charity work where you help those less fortunate than yourself helps you see things through a more grateful lens. Slowing down and consciously savoring good moments will help train your thoughts to be grateful. Being grateful……ahh, what a beautiful feeling that is!
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA