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What Is Gratitude and Why Is It Important?

On a general scale, gratitude can be thought of as a mental state of mind: you’re consciously grateful for things and people in your life. Gratitude can also be thought of as small acts of acknowledging what and for whom you’re grateful, such as calling up your best friend and telling them how much they mean to you. It’s an act of expressing your gratitude that many may resonate with.

You may have read or heard about gratitude in high volumes when it comes to positivity, health, and wellness. It has become one of the cornerstones of living a mindful life, and a tool used by many to achieve happiness, peace, and wellbeing.

This article will dive into what gratitude is, why it’s important, and how you can more concsciously implement it into your daily routine.

What is Gratitude?

According to Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on the topic, gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received”((Greater Good Magazine: What is Gratitude?)). This suggests that gratitude is more than just actions; it is an intention that we speak to ourselves that affirms the good things and people in our life.

Emmons goes on to explain that gratitude is also acknowledgement that the good things in our life often come from external sources. If you happen to believe in a higher power or are of a spiritual nature, gratitude becomes an offering of thanks to whatever you choose to believe in.

Think about something or someone you’re grateful for. In a moment of offering thanks for this thing or person to have come into your life, imagine where that “thanks” is being offered to: perhaps God, Universe, something esoteric that you believe watches over you, etc. This is what Emmons means when he’s talking about external sources: in gratitude, we’re offering our thanks for what we have in life, knowing that people and things come to us from seemingly divine places or chance.

Emmons also calls gratitude, in this context, the “relationship-strengthening emotion.” It reminds us that we’re constantly supported and loved by others, and showing gratitude for those people is affirming their support. Therefore, gratitude can also be thought of as an emotion, since it is from our emotional state that we feel gratitude and are able to express it.

Lastly, gratitude is also about “paying it forward.” Sociologist Georg Simmel calls this act “the moral memory of mankind”((Oxford University Press: The Psychology of Gratitude)) It goes hand in hand that when we’re feeling grateful and sharing that with others, it encourages the energy of gratitude to be passed down from person to person. It inspires us to keep the loving momentum going, and thus “pay it forward” to someone else. Simmel believes that this is how gratitude has existed over the years: in strengthened bonds between people who shared their gratitude with others.

Why Is Gratitude Important?

Now that you know what gratitude is, why is it important? According to a plethora of positive psychology research, gratitude has been strongly correlated with greater happiness and joy((Harvard Health Publishing: Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier)). If we subscribe to the theory that thoughts create our reality, we can easily see how this research plays out.

Think about something or someone who brings you pure joy. When you think about this person or thing, begin to notice how you feel in your body. Likely, you’ll feel a great opening sensation in your heart, or butterfly feelings of excitement in your belly.

These physical sensations lead you into feeling grateful for this specific thing or person. In fact, you may feel lighter, more at peace, and happier. Practicing gratitude in such a way leads to more joy without a lot of effort: it’s easy to be happy when you’re grateful.

Now think about something or someone who brings you pain or sorrow. Notice how this person or thing makes you feel, even if it’s unpleasant. Do you get sensations of heaviness? Do your thoughts and feelings spiral into negativity?

Focusing on the negative brings about more negativity. One feeds the other in the same way that gratitude brings about more joy. Therefore, from a perspective of mental health, gratitude plays a huge part in how we cater to our positivity and, therefore, our happiness.

Additionally, mental health closely ties in with physical health. When we’re mentally and emotionally in a good place, our physical health follows: we have more energy, we sleep better, we make better dietary choices, we breathe easier, etc.

Likewise, when we’re deep in negativity, our mental health suffers. We’re more prone to depression and anxiety, and this causes high blood pressure, insomnia, body aches and pain, and a slew of other symptoms and diseases. Practicing gratitude is a tool by which we ensure our wholesome, optimal health.

How to Practice Gratitude

Now that you know what gratitude is and why it’s important, it’s worth noting some ways of practicing gratitude in your daily routine. These suggestions need not be complicated or take up too much time: the simpler the better. It’s the intention that counts!((Happify Daily: The Science Behind Gratitude (and How It Can Change Your Life)))

1. Start a Gratitude Journal

Whether you do this at night or first thing in the morning, make a list of everything you’re grateful for. Start by listing 3-5 things, and you can work your way up later if you wish. You’ll be surprised at how this can change your perspective and shift your day for the better.

2. Make a Gratitude Jar

For every moment of gratitude, write a note on a piece of paper and toss it into a jar. On New Year’s Eve, open up the notes and remind yourself of all the wonderful moments you were grateful for throughout the year.

3. Write a Letter

Take some time to write a letter to someone you’re grateful for. Handwritten letters carry so much loving energy! Not only are you sharing your gratitude with this person, but that person may be inspired to pay it forward to someone else.

Some days, you may find yourself unable to express gratitude. This may be because you’re going through a hard time or facing an unprecedented challenge. Take this moment to practice gratitude anyway. Identify the challenge you’re facing and think about what silver lining or life lesson lives in this challenge. Then, offer your gratitude for giving you wisdom, strength, and courage((Inc.: 7 Easy Gratitude Exercises That Make Even the Most Pessimistic People Happier)).

Final Thoughts

Gratitude can be thought of as an emotion, a mental state of mind, or an affirmation of something or someone good in your life. Whatever way you choose to define it, is a personal choice that is meant to bring you closer to joy and happiness.

The importance of practicing gratitude, in small steps throughout your day, is a vital tool in maintaining optimal mental, physical, and emotional health. It also acts as a ripple of positivity in your relationships, social circles, and community. We can all practice gratitude and pay it forward for a better, kinder world.

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