Gratitude: A Matter of Attitude

Dr George Simon, PhD

Being a more grateful person is a good way to become a happier person. In fact, gratitude can positively impact any number of our emotions. Unlike some other things in life that have the power to pick up our spirits for a time (like trying new and exciting things, getting a raise, receiving an unexpected gift, etc.), cultivating a thankful heart produces results that can last a lifetime. Being grateful is good for our social life, too. When we carry a grateful attitude, we tend to be nicer, more receptive and accommodating, and more appreciative of our friends, relatives, and associates. In turn, doing such things generally translates into people liking us more, wanting to be around us and do more things with us, and being more generally inclined to show kindness to us — a really positive, energizing cycle of relationship enhancement. Gratitude is also good for our physical health, helping us be less worried or anxious and helping us keep a positive emotional balance and a positive mood. Being grateful has benefits to our overall personality and character development. The more grateful we are, the less self-conscious and materialistic, and the more self affirming and optimistic we’re likely to be, all of which helps us to be a better person. (I speak to this very issue in the section of my book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] devoted to character development.)

The plethora of evidence is pretty clear: gratitude really is good for you, and apparently on many levels and in countless ways. So it would appear in our best interest to cultivate a greater sense of thankfulness. But how do you go about making yourself feel grateful, especially when things aren’t going the way you’d like? Can you really nurture grateful feelings? Is gratitude really a matter of attitude?

One of the principal tenets of cognitive-behavioral psychology is that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are inextricably interconnected. While many professionals have come to appreciate how much what we think and feel influences how we act, I’ve been one of the few long emphasizing how much what we do can influence our emotions and our beliefs (see “Putting the “B” Back into Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy”). If we really want to change our attitude, one place to start is with our behavior. So, if we want to have a more grateful heart, it’s incumbent upon us to act more grateful — even when it isn’t all that easy to do so. To better accomplish that, there are some concrete steps we can take:

Make a list.
There’s wisdom in the adage that advises to “count your blessings.” Journaling all the things you have to be thankful for is a great way to keep yourself aware of why you should be grateful. You can take your “gratitude inventory” mentally as well. Just remember to take the time to do it and to do so often.
Frame things in the positive.
Put a positive “spin” on things, even those things that it’s hard to see the good in. Looking on the “bright side” can keep you from becoming down on life and down on yourself as well.
Say and give thanks at every opportunity.
The small things count here. Let the waiter at the restaurant know how much you appreciated their service. Tell the store clerk how happy you are they had just what you needed. Let the kids know how much you appreciated their efforts to tidy up their rooms. Expressing thankfulness is a good way to engender grateful feelings.
Dare not to compare.
Resist the temptation to compare yourself or your situation to others. Despite how things might appear on the surface, no one’s life is perfect and everyone has unique gifts and blessings. Thinking how much more fortunate someone else is can make you feel cheated and deprived. Focus on the unique person you are and the special things you’ve been given and you’ll find yourself feeling more grateful.

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This is the time of the year when many folks reflect on their lives and all that they have. It can be a lonely and depressing time for those who’ve been struggling or have suffered tragic losses or other misfortunes. It’s understandable that such folks might have a hard time finding things for which to feel grateful. But because gratitude is mostly about attitude, and because our attitude can be shaped by our behavior, it’s important that we do our best to act gratefully, even when we’re not feeling too inclined to do so. Behaving gratefully can help us feel more thankful. As we know from abundant research, the benefits of being grateful are many.

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