“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” –Rabbi Harold Kushner
Dr. Robert Emmons is a psychology professor at the University of California, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, and gratitude myth buster. He shares several common misconceptions surrounding gratitude that often get in the way of being able to experience gratefulness and its full health benefits. Here are a few of the most compelling common myths:
- Gratitude is just a naïve form of positive thinking. Some people believe gratitude is simply “thinking about nice thoughts” and “expecting good things” while ignoring life’s negativity, pain, and suffering.
- Gratitude is self-effacing or self-sabotaging. This myth makes people believe that being grateful means giving credit to others for their own success, which overlooks their hard work and natural ability.
- Gratitude isn’t possible in the midst of adversity or suffering. This misconception creates the belief that it’s impossible to be grateful during traumatic times. Instead these people believe that gratitude is only accessible when life is going well and that it disappears when they begin facing hard times.
Gratitude is one of the most powerful of all of the positive emotions that contributes strongly to overall happiness, optimism, and life satisfaction. Because gratitude is universally experienced, it can mean different things to many people. Let’s explore the scientific and practical benefits of gratitude.
The three components of gratitude are:
- A warm sense of appreciation
- A sense of goodwill toward yourself and others
- Taking action that flows from this appreciation and goodwill
In this way, gratitude can be a thought or feeling and can also be expressed through action. I’ve been a proud New Yorker for most of my life. One thing I’ve learned from living in this city is that us New Yorkers are resilient. On October 14th, 2003, at 4:10 in the afternoon, the power shut off in the Soaringwords Learning Lab. At first we thought we blew a fuse. However, when we looked out the window, we discovered all of the lights in the area were shut off including the Empire State Building, Penn Station, and the US Post Office building. We grabbed our things and slowly walked down the darkened stairwell to begin the walk home before nightfall. Since my apartment was the closest to the office and some of the team members lived many miles away from the office, together, we began the 50-block journey north. Hundreds of people were walking in every direction. At each intersection, citizens were directing traffic since the traffic lights were out. Shopkeepers were handing out bottles of water. At the time, we didn’t know that the blackout had affected the entire northeastern United States and that it would take two days to restore the power. What we did know as we walked through those 50 blocks was that New Yorkers were there for each other. People literally took care of each other in the dark. And, from this experience, we learned to appreciate having electricity, which was definitely something that most people had probably taken for granted.
According to my friend and colleague Dr. Dan Tomasulo, academic director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Teachers College at Columbia University, “Gratitude it’s kind of like the low hanging fruit. But people often don’t see it because it’s a little bit in the blind spot. We all say we have gratitude, but when you have intentional wellbeing, you’re specifically trying to activate it and acknowledge it.”
Dan suggests doing a simple exercise to strengthen those gratitude muscles. It’s easy: Just make a list of what you did yesterday. Detail everything you did in the past 24 hours. Once you’re done, go back over the list and think about all those things you did through the lens of gratitude. In this way, you may begin to realize how easy it is to experience gratitude amnesia—forgetting all the things during that day for which you are grateful. This exercise demonstrates the human tendency to review the day in the brain’s default network that often leads to a negativity bias. However, when we can remind ourselves to look at each day through the lens of gratitude, we will experience greater physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
Choosing to focus on gratitude is not “happy-ology” like faking joy or trying to force good feelings. It is simply remembering to focus on or see something that’s so obvious but often taken for granted. Tonight before you go to sleep, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on your day through the lens of gratitude. I know that this micro-intervention has the opportunity to elevate your mood and make you feel much more appreciative. Gratitude is a renewable resource.
I’m sending you strength and love.
Soaringwords is the power to heal.