As we embark on this season of gratitude each year, some quietly struggle with feelings of ambivalence as they search for reasons to feel thankful. In a society where happiness is often mistakenly measured by tangibles, many believe themselves to be falling short. Living life sometimes becomes more about sprinting from one obligation to the next in an effort to keep up with what is believed to be the “good” life. More is often equated with better and patience is replaced with the need for immediate gratification. Even still, in this world that is moving at warp speed, there are inherent traits and learned skills that can combat the worldly impositions that stifle gratitude.
Mindfulness. Contrary to popular belief, this skill doesn’t necessarily have to be employed in a yoga studio. Simply being present in the moment without passing judgment will allow you to exercise mindfulness in any given scenario. Often, we are so goal-oriented and future-focused that we are tied to computers, smart phones, schedules, and to-do lists. These have become necessary components of our daily lives, but those who are able to periodically slow down and recognize exactly what is going on in the present moment will be more likely to see the good in others. Pausing and experiencing a situation without interruption can lead to gratitude, as it allows for a seemingly simple interaction to become more grandiose. The kindness of a stranger, the pure, unadulterated laughter of a child, an authentic “thank you” from a friend; these are small windows where gratitude can be elicited from us if we are present and mindful enough to notice.
Authenticity. There’s nothing more freeing and psychologically healthy than being genuine. Those who feel pressured to put on a façade, or as if they must constantly meet others’ expectations, will undoubtedly spend a significant amount of mental energy trying to figure out how to measure up and prevent failure. For those who choose to be authentic, fear of failure is less salient and, thus, there is more room for gratitude and recognition of what is going well versus what is not. By definition, authenticity allows for flaws and imperfections. When we can accept that perfection is not the ultimate goal, then we will be more apt to feel grateful for progress throughout the process as opposed to measuring success by definitive outcomes. Even more important is the fact that others will feel less intimidated and freer to reciprocate authenticity when we are able to be real with them. In essence, authenticity breeds gratitude in others as well.
Forgiveness. Holding on to grievances and harboring resentment are major barriers to feelings of gratitude. While forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation within relationships, it does require that we let go of the notion that being wronged means that someone else must make it right. When we are able to forgive, we unburden ourselves of the responsibility of trying to make a situation more just. If we acknowledge that life can be unfair, and know that we can be intentionally hurt by others without reason, this will lead to an understanding that others will sometimes unexpectedly let us down. Ultimately, forgiveness is the antidote to resentment. When resentment is discarded, perspectives change and there is more awareness and energy to allocate to healthy relationships for which we can be grateful.
Empathy. Biologically, we have an entrenched tendency to compare and categorize. This sometimes leads to judgment, albeit often incorrect, of others’ situations and emotions. When something is not going well for us, we tend to compare the darkest part of our lives to the highlight reel of someone else’s. Contrarily, when we feel slighted, we tend to assign blame to other people, assuming that their situations are more ideal than our own. If we are able to pause, wonder what another might actually be experiencing in a situation, and be open to other perspectives, then we will be more apt to feel empathy rather than anger. When we are able to change perspectives and have a more realistic understanding of everyone’s struggles and challenges, then we are able to feel gratitude for what is going well for us and for our ability to effect positive change in the lives of other people. This also allows for us to be grateful for others’ successes rather than perseverating on our own shortcomings, leaving a multitude of things for which to be grateful.
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