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Gratitude, the Underdog of Emotions

Alas, how quickly the gratitude owed to the dead flows off, how quick to be proved a deceiver.

–Sophocles


What’s so great about gratitude? You’re probably wondering.  Which is exactly why gratitude is the underdog of emotions to begin with.  No one takes it very seriously.  You might grateful to someone for about five minutes when they do you a favour or when they do something that makes you take a moment out to appreciate them as a person, but those moments don’t happen very often.  Most people don’t feel any gratitude at all for the majority of the days of the week.

But it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal.  I mean, life goes on, right?  Nothing catastrophic happens when you don’t express gratitude for a week.  On top of that it seems to be one of those spur of the moment type things– has something great happened?  Well then you’re grateful for it for a little bit, and then you’re done.

Despite gratitude’s place as one of the least used emotions, it has the potential to do a lot for your happiness and to simply improve your day-to-day life.  Seems like a lot for one emotion, right?

It is.  Practicing the act of gratitude every day made a big difference in my life in a very subtle way.  About two months ago I started keeping a gratitude journal.

Keeping a Gratitude Journal

The idea was simple.  Every day when I wake up, I open up my journal and write down five things in my life I’m grateful for.  It can be that I’m grateful for my fiance, grateful for where I live, for the nice food I’m able to afford, for my book being published, for my cats, whatever.  Anything that I can think of in my life that I appreciate (Or that I reap the benefits from and never take the time to appreciate.) can go down on my list.

It doesn’t need to be a long list– as I said, I only write down five items a day, but if you’d like to include descriptions for each item you’re welcome to do so.  Some days I do and some days I don’t.  It just depends on how I feel.  Whatever makes you feel the most grateful is probably the best, and usually the more detail you go into the better.

The point is to do it every day though, and to seek out those items, people or events that you normally don’t pay any attention to, but that you would miss terribly if they were taken away from your life.  It shouldn’t be hard to find five.

Why every day?

You do it every day for a few reasons.  I like to do it in the morning of every day because it ensures that no matter how I’m feeling about the day so far that it ends up starting on a good note.  Sometimes I don’t feel like waking up or I have something I don’t particularly want to face coming up that afternoon, and that little bit of gratitude usually brightens me up and lets me know that I have a lot of good in my life and a lot of things to be thankful for.

It’s also rather strange in that the more you do it, the easier and more effective it becomes.  When you first start keeping a journal of the things you’re grateful for, it won’t seem to make a lot of difference.  You probably won’t feel much gratitude for the things you’ve listed, even if you know they’re great additions to your life and that you would miss them if they were absent.  That’s normal.  We practice gratitude so rarely then when you actually start to try and feel gratitude, you’re usually not able to do it very well.

But it’s a very powerful emotion, and its effects ripple like waves throughout your life.  Not only will you start feeling very grateful for the little things in your life every morning when you keep your journal, you’ll start noticing things throughout the day you’re grateful for as well.  And those little moments of gratitude feel great.  Suddenly this new appreciation for your life forms and you’re no longer looking across the fence at your neighbours yard and noticing how green their grass is.

And that’s the other important part about gratitude; it keeps you away from that ‘grass is greener’ mentality that so many of us have.  You’re always looking at the next best thing, a house that’s slightly bigger, a slightly faster car, a bigger TV, a better job, more money, etc. etc.  Nothing is ever enough for us these days.  No matter what you get it always seems like there’s something more that you could have if only you had more ______.

And while it’s good to try and improve your life and yourself, there comes a point where being okay with where you are and what you have is okay.  In fact, it’s good.  It’s the only way you’re ever going to feel satisfied and happy.  Because if you’re always looking at what’s ‘better’ and comparing it with what you have, you’re always going to come up short.  You’re always going to feel like crap about what you have because even if you had that faster car or bigger house, within a month you’d be looking at even faster cars and even bigger houses and yearning after them instead of appreciating what you have.

That’s the biggest trap that you can fall into without gratitude, which is why it’s so very important to practice it on a daily basis.

Still don’t believe me?

Try it.  Never knock it until you try it.  I was incredibly skeptical at first, too.  I think that’s normal.  So do yourself a favour and just try it.  Write five things every morning in a gratitude journal for 30 days.  One month, that’s it.  Not the rest of your life or anything drastic like that.  Just one month.  If you like it, you’ve already developed the habit so you can keep going.  If you don’t like it, it should be just as easy to quit.

But believe me when I say that if you try it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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