What is gratitude and how can it help us?
Gratitude, in the simplest form, is a thankful appreciation for what one has.
It is a positive state of mind that focuses on what we already have, rather than what is lacking in life. It is the awareness that life isn’t perfect and it doesn’t always go the way we want it to go; but from a realistic perspective, there are always some good things in life that we can appreciate.
So why do we need to practice gratitude? Why doesn’t it just come naturally?
It’s a part of our evolution. We generally tend to return to a certain baseline level of happiness despite major positive or negative events in life. We adapt to them. This concept is called “hedonic adaptation”, and it is essential for our survival.
The downside of hedonic adaptation is that we also adapt to even the most wonderful things we have over time. Their subjective impact decreases over time, and we lose interest. There are many things in life that make our lives much better but eventually we don't even acknowledge their existence because we get used to them.
That’s why we need to intentionally pay attention to the good things in life. In this way, we can reverse our adaptation, see the wonderful things as they are, and feel the power of gratitude.
Research shows that the practice of gratitude can change subjective wellbeing. Even a small act like listing a few things we are grateful for has an incredibly powerful effect on our mental health.
People who practice gratitude feel that their lives are going better as a whole. They have a more optimistic perspective on the future. They show fewer physical symptoms when they are sick and they make healthier habits such as exercising more.
By paying attention to the things we are grateful for, we cultivate happiness, compassion, and kindness.
By being grateful, we cultivate a better life.