Practicing gratitude may be the secret to realizing that your life is not half as bad as you thought. Being human does not have to be as hard as we make it. Unfortunately, many of us focus on what’s wrong in our lives instead of what’s right. We experience envy when looking outwards, and disappointment when we look inward, leading to chronic dissatisfaction. For example, we want to be more successful, have more satisfying relationships, and be able to get the things we crave.
How can we feel gratitude if we are unsuccessful?
Social media, advertising and pop culture make this dissatisfaction worse by professing that anything less than perfect indicates failure. They make us believe that all our experiences should be great, we should have lots of friends, be conventionally attractive and find a soulmate. Moreover, they remind us that others who have all these attributes are genuinely happy. In addition, everywhere we look, we see self-improvement products to help us achieve that perfect happiness. The fact that we haven’t reached it is our fault for not trying hard enough.
Gratitude is an antidote to dissatisfaction
Researchers have shown that gratitude can counteract negative feelings. This led to the emergence of positive psychology to make people realize that life is not all bad. However, defining gratitude is not easy because it can vary from person to person. It is a feeling, a behavior, a virtue or a character trait. We can feel grateful for perfect weather, someone who did us a favor, for nature and even fate. Each person’s biology is wired with gratitude, but our genes determine our levels of gratitude. We can show gratitude with a single flower.
Where does “I owe you” come from?
Animals, especially primates, are perfect examples of reciprocity, which is most likely the origin of gratitude. Our brains recognize anything others do for us, and reacts by giving us the feeling of gratitude. In addition, the brain motivates us to repay them. To me, that seems to be the origin of “I owe you.” It goes all the way back to our ancestors, who were more reliant on others. Giving and receiving filled their lives, and those who did not care for others were identified as selfish and shunned.
Gratitude is a never-ending cycle. For example, someone does something for me, and I show gratitude by doing or giving something back. That person will be grateful and pay me back, and on and on it goes. Giving and receiving help in building bonds of friendship and lasting relationships. The more such loop-backs we have, the more enjoyable and positive social connections we’ll have. The natural reaction of the brain will urge us to reciprocate with gratefulness.
Gratitude leads to happiness and satisfaction
The social gratitude loops make us feel satisfied and happier. Soon, all those with whom we formed relationships will surround us, and making friends becomes easier. Surprisingly, it also leads to better sleep, and fewer bouts of depression, burnout and addictions. Many people who would reach a target and, instead of feeling grateful, are disappointed because the outcome was not better. However, feeling gratitude for their achievements will make reaching the next target even easier.
Keep a journal of good things
Keep a journal of each day’s experiences that made you feel grateful, and before long, you will train your brain to more good than bad. However, there is no pill to make you happy, and gratitude is only one piece of the puzzle. Life is full of challenges and complications, and some days are worse than others. It is okay to feel out of control sometimes, as long as you are not too hard on yourself. I bet you could find a tiny sliver of something to make you feel gratitude even on the worst of bad days.