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Published on April 28, 2020

What Is Gratitude and Why Is It Important?

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”[1]. 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.

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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”[2] 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[3]. 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.

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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.

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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![4])

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[5].

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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.

More Tips on Gratitude

Featured photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

10 Ways to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough

10 Ways to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough

Whenever you hit a rough patch in life, it can seem like the problems you’re confronting are unique to you and that the whole world is closing in. It might be that you are struggling to find a way out and just can’t see the light of hope anywhere when the going gets tough.

Thankfully, although you might not see it, there is always hope. Nothing lasts forever—not even bad times—and doing things like remembering why you started in the first place and practicing using your courage muscle are just a couple of things that can shorten the difficult times.

If you could find a way to not only survive but thrive when the going gets tough, how would your life change for the better?

Here are ten ways you can do to make that happen today.

1. Realize How Far You Have Come

Whenever you get discouraged on the path to wherever you want to go, it is usually because you are only looking forward, not around you or behind you. Your journey through life will last until your final day, so it is no wonder that you still see a long and sometimes daunting path ahead.

To keep going despite this, it’s important to take a moment or two to look around. Look at where you are standing now compared to when you first started. Look at how far you have come since you first began. Look at how many obstacles and challenges are behind you that you managed to overcome successfully.

The benefits of reflective practice are also extensive, and it is little wonder why.[1]

Looking back at how far you have come is usually the fire you need to keep on burning brightly into the future.

2. Remember Why You Started

When the going gets tough, you need something to cling to in order to keep your grit and remind yourself why you started doing something in the first place. Without this all-important “why, you will be quick to wander from your path.

Whenever things are at their worst, your number one reason for doing the thing is going to be what pulls you through.

As ex-Navy Seal and motivation master David Goggins puts it:

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“‘Why am I here?’ If you know that moment is coming and have your answer ready, you will be equipped to make the split-second decision to ignore your weakened mind and keep moving. Know why you’re in the fight to stay in the fight!”

Sometimes, life can be a bit of a fight, especially within yourself. So, having your reasons for continuing will always help pull you out when times are tough. Try writing these down and posting them in places you look at every day to help them have even more impact.

3. Make It a Habit to Move Forward

Habits are some of the strongest behavioral predictors that we have. Most of our habits happen in our subconscious and are triggered by external or internal cues.

The great thing about habits is that they can be formed through conscious, repeated behaviors, and when practiced enough, they can eventually take their place in the subconscious and guide your life.

Of course, you want good habits to be guiding your life in the background, not bad ones. That’s why it’s a good idea to make it a habit to always move forward.

Contrary to what most people say, moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be better every single day for the rest of your life. There are going to be slip-ups, bad days, and circumstances that blow you off course.

Moving forward is all about getting back on track as fast as possible. If you can make that a habit, you can always get closer to where you want to go.

4. Use ‘If-Then’ Planning

When the going gets tough in your life, one of the most effective frameworks that you can put into place is called the ‘if-then’ planning.

This is the simplified version of something called Implementation Intention, a concept created by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer in the mid-’90s.[2] It helps you to make sense of confusing situations and to be able to take action when you are really struggling.

The simplified process is as follows:

“If x happens, I will do y.”

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For example:

“If I start to have negative thoughts, I will take ten seconds to just breathe.”

“If I feel extremely stressed for three days in a row, I will take the fourth day off to recover and reset.”

If-then planning puts a strategy in place for when times are tough. It takes away the element of thinking, planning, and worrying as you already know exactly what you need to do in each situation.

The beauty of using if-then is that you can change the if and then for different situations based on whatever works best for you at any given moment.

5. Find Some Mentors

With the internet becoming more expansive and accessible as it has ever been, there are so many ways to get a peek into the world’s top minds and see what they do in their own lives when the going gets tough.

Most successful people have had to overcome some serious struggles to get to where they are. Do a simple search online, and you will no doubt find out about all of the challenges that your favorite people have had to overcome.

Because of this, you should try to take inspiration from these people and find your own mentors. It’s worth recognizing that nobody trying to live their best life can ever get through it without their fair share of challenges to overcome. That’s just part of the hero’s journey.

6. Get out of Your Head

Sometimes, all of the reasoning, thinking, planning, and ruminating in the world doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, for the serial thinkers and problem-solvers out there, it is oftentimes that too much time in your head results in even more struggle rather than a release of it.

Yes, some things can be solved by thinking. But when the going gets really tough, it is usually just pure heart, emotion, and grit that are going to carry you through. Your mind can become a tyrant, and it is worth being aware of this.

When you feel your own thoughts weighing you down and can’t stop the incessant thinking and worrying about the past, present, and/or future, it is time to step out of your mind for a little while and get into your body. Lift some weights, go for a run, or take a pleasant walk.

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The mind and body are much more connected than most people think—especially when it comes to emotions and fears and doing something beneficial for the body often benefits the unsettled mind as well.[3]

7. Ruthlessly Forgive Yourself

One of the worst things you can do when the going gets tough is to come down hard on yourself. Everyone has these external and internal struggles, and the harder you are on yourself for having them, the more difficult and traumatic the episodes will be when you inevitably slip up.

A lot of people are far harder on themselves than they are on other people, and to keep going in tough times, you need to be just as empathetic with yourself as you would be with your best friend.

Made a mistake? Forgive. Are you still giving yourself a hard time? Forgive. Are you still getting angry over small things “even though we talked about this”? Forgive.

The hard times are much easier to get through when you are at peace with yourself. You will be astonished by how much less pressure you feel when this happens.

8. Take Smaller Steps

It is common for people to stumble in life because they are simply taking on too much at once. Whether it be too much ambition, unrealistic expectations of themselves or others, or some extra curveballs, big steps can sometimes be too much to take.

The truth about big steps is that they are rare, disruptive, and difficult to keep up without crumbling. The big steps—the real life-changing goals and dreams that you have—can often be broken into much smaller steps that are more manageable and that will get you to the same place.

If the going is getting particularly tough, it might be the case that you are simply trying to do too much at once. Try taking smaller, more manageable steps, and see if obstacles and difficulties become easier to navigate.

9. Use Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

Everyone will agree that the courage we have stored within ourselves is often finite and difficult to sustain for long periods. We tend to think that making a big change in our life and getting out of a rut requires courage for long periods that we simply cannot manage.

The good news is that this isn’t true. Most of the pivotal moments of change in your life—including pulling yourself out of a hole when the going gets tough—come from small, courageous decisions in short, precise moments.

Quite often, using twenty seconds of insane courage when it is needed is enough to completely change the trajectory of our lives. Whether it be asking for that promotion, deciding to go to the gym for the first time in months, or having the courage to break through your insecurities and ask someone out, most of these only require a few seconds of insane courage.

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Standing up and walking into your boss’s office, getting the gym kit on, picking up the phone or sending the text—you only have to be courageous in these few moments, and then you can relax and let life unfold.

Twenty seconds? You can do that, easily.

10. Accept That Your Motivation Will Wane

One of the main reasons that people get discouraged and struggle to keep going in hard times is that they never expected their motivation to dip.

When we start a project or enter a relationship or take something new and exciting on in our lives, our motivation is high, and we are in a mindset of excitement. We start thinking about all of the positives that could come from these things.

However, as time wears on, motivation levels inevitably drop, and you start to focus on the negatives of what’s happening or the added responsibility that you forgot to consider.

When this happens, you have two choices:

  1. You can put on your rose-colored glasses of the past and falsely remember how perfect everything was;
  2. Or you can put on your realistic glasses, face the difficulties, and keep moving forward into something better.

The true test of character comes when you hit a dip, motivation wanes, and you just don’t feel like doing stuff anymore. The secret is to realize that all of this is temporary and that you don’t need motivation to act.

It’s nice to have motivation, but the true test of character comes when motivation inevitably wanes. In those moments, will you keep going?

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Each of these ten ideas for how to keep going when the going gets tough is versatile enough to be applied to almost any difficult situation that you find yourself in.

Life is going to present many difficulties. This isn’t something to fear but something to embrace. With these steps, you can navigate these stormy waters a little easier.

More Inspirations to Help You Stay Strong

Featured photo credit: Gaelle Marcel via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: What Is Self-Reflection and Why It Matters For Wellness
[2] American Psychologist: Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans
[3] The International Journal of Psychoanalysis: Emotional Processing: The Mind-Body Connection

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