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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 August 7, 2020

40 Acts of Kindness to Make the World a Better Place

40 Acts of Kindness to Make the World a Better Place

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

So, you want to change the world? Who says you can’t?

You’ve had the power this whole time. You just have to tap into it and embrace the ways you make changes.

You can start small or go big. The important thing is that you try. Even in little ways, we can change the world. It’s up to you to show up and make that difference.

Here are 40 acts of kindness to make the world a better place.

1. Give a Compliment

Tell someone that you care about them by complimenting them. It can be a big compliment or a small one. The point is that you share what good you see in them. That will help them develop confidence and a stronger sense of self.

2. Volunteer

There’re many reasons why doing voluntary work is good for you. Find a good cause you care about and give your time to it. Serve in some way. Volunteering transforms your hard work into other people’s happiness. This is one of the most common acts of kindness that you can do.

3. Contribute to a Charity

Similarly, charities also contribute to other people’s happiness even with minimal effort from you. If you can’t serve a charity or nonprofit, you can give financially or even raise money with a fundraiser. Volunteering and contributing to charity are acts of kindness that require sacrifice but are definitely worth it.

4. Visit Someone

People may know you care but are you present with them? It’s best to give your time to those you care about and show them that they matter to you. Go and visit them while you can. This simple act of kindness can go a long way.

5. Listen

When someone talks, are you really listening? A person will feel like you are listening if you actively respond and can repeat back what they’ve said, asking questions to further probe their problems. Regardless if you’re actively or passively listening, listening has positive effects on others, which is a step towards making the world a better place.

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6. Show Empathy

Show empathy – feel what someone else is feeling. Put yourself in their place. They may need that, and this shows that you understand what they are going through, which can help make them feel better. Showing empathy is one of the simplest yet best ways acts of kindness can manifest.

7. Point out the Positive for Someone

Not everyone can see the positive side of things, especially if they are going through very rough times. It may make their day though if you show it to them. Then, they can enjoy it, too.

8. Help Someone With Something

Do you have some skills to offer? Do you have the ability to help out? It doesn’t matter how you can help, just find some way to be of use to someone. You never know how doing so might find its way back to you. Ask how you may be of help, and it just might make someone’s day a lot better.

9. Give Input or Advice

Someone may benefit from what you know. You may have the experience that they don’t have. When you give input about something using your expertise (whether a little or a lot), you are more appreciated for doing so. Valid criticisms and feedback are always welcome, and they may even help others improve their situation.

10. Lead Others

You may now know it, but people may be looking to you as an example of what to do. You can lead them from point A to point B, maybe because you’ve gotten there yourself or because they trust you. Regardless, leading others is one of the best acts of kindness that you can do for others.

11. Promote Someone

Show off someone’s skills and their value. This will make them feel good enough as well as touched by this act of kindness. Promoting someone not only benefits them economically or financially, but it also helps them mentally and emotionally, knowing that you believe in them.

12. Solve a Problem for Someone

You don’t have to have all the answers. But if you have solved a problem for someone, they will look at you as if you do. That’s rewarding in and of itself.

13. Tell Someone That They Matter

People don’t always know their worth. Some people don’t recognize that they and what they do matter to others. If you tell them that they are worthwhile, they will feel better and be able to do better. They will look to you for strength at first, then to themselves.

14. Teach Someone a New Skill

You don’t have to be a teacher to share your knowledge. If you teach someone a new skill, they will spread the knowledge and your influence may extend to more people. This is a simple yet effective act of kindness that can help improve the world.

15. Plant a Tree, Clean up Trash, Recycle, Get Educated

Even in simple ways, taking care of the environment is important in making the world a better place. You must care about nature and its value. We are connected to nature, and nature is a big part of our world.

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16. Start a New Initiative Toward Social Good

You may not be the only one interested in an idea, but you may be the first to act on it. Lead others towards this initiative and see the goodness spread. Any initiative that benefits society will benefit the whole world.

17. Analyze if Products Are Ethical

In the current consumer culture, we often want instant gratification. But that’s not always safe or effective. We must look into the ethical practices behind the products we consume. Our consumption should be consistent with what we stand for, and we should spread the message to gain greater awareness of the right kind of products.

18. Ask Questions

This is called being considerate. When you ask someone a question, you are showing interest in and building their confidence to talk about themselves.

19. Make a New Friend

We can’t have a list of acts of kindness without including this one. Everyone needs friends. We must hold onto each other not hurt each other. Having friends means we’re no longer alone. You can share more and do more when you have a friend.

20. Positive Reinforcement

Rather than just criticizing someone for what they did wrong, praise and reward good behavior, too. This is especially useful when dealing with kids or in the workplace. Learn the benefits of positive reinforcement: Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

21. Be Honest

This may just be a simple act of kindness, but people will feel respected if you are honest with them. It may not solve everything, but it helps them know you are trustworthy and that you care about them.

22. Give Your Time

Giving your time to help others shows them that you will be there for them no matter what. Your time is the most valuable thing that you can give, and this can encourage them to give their time to others as well.

23. Be Accountable

If you make a mistake, that’s okay. No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. But be accountable and try to make things better. This will let others know that they can rely on you.

24. Learn

Learn from someone. Listen to someone’s story, learn how someone does something, and be teachable. We can’t learn everything, so there will always be something new for us to learn.

25. Love

Love makes the world go round. Love is the ultimate manifestation of kindness. And when you love someone, let them know it. Let them feel that you are in their life for the right reasons and that you want to be there for them.

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26. Stand for Something

Society has many problems, and there are many causes to choose from. Find something you are passionate about such as a social justice issue, environment, animals, etc. The list goes on. What’s important is that you show conviction toward a good cause.

27. Write a Note of Encouragement

A nice note can turn someone’s day around. As long as what you wrote is from the heart, the recipient will feel that it is and will feel better than before.

28. Say “Thank you”

Saying “thank you” is often taken for granted. Such an act of kindness is often overlooked, but it’s still as important as before. Saying “thank you” is how you can make some feel appreciated and supported.

Here’re 60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life.

29. Heal Someone

If you can heal someone, you can make the world a better place. You can heal them emotionally, physically, or spiritually and if you heal them, they will never forget it. You will feel healed in your heart, too.

30. Be an Advocate

Stand up for someone or something. Sometimes, it’s not easy to do the right thing, but if you want to show that you care, you have to put a stop to any form of injustice. You may be the only one to take that stand. Know that it matters.

31. Raise Someone

Raising a human being is just one contribution that you can make in the world. This may be more complicated than the other acts of kindness, but it’s just as impactful. You can leave a legacy on the person who grows up under your care.

32. Embrace Community

“No man is an island.” It’s a common saying but it speaks the truth. We are meant to be social beings in need of each other. That is why we have communities. You can help a community flourish through what you bring to the table.

33. Hold Space for Someone

This means having no judgment. It is unconditional care and support without trying to solve someone else’s problems. It may be kinder than talking over them or taking over. Let them be, and let them know you’re there.

34. Forgive

Grudges hold us back. Second chances give us more life. It’s not just for them, it’s for us. When the situation is appropriate, be the bigger person and you will have a better life. Forgiveness may not come easy, but you’ll find that it transforms everything it touches.

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Learn How to Forgive and Live a Happy Life Again (A Step-By-Step Guide).

35. Give a Gift

If you give a gift, someone will have something that makes them think of you. They also learn that they are deserving of kindness, and they may feel good about themselves.

36. Keep Your Promises

People look to you for consistency. They want to know that they can count on you. Show them they can by keeping your promises.

37. Just Be Nice

Other acts of kindness require more effort, but you can just be nice and this will contribute to having a better world. The important thing is to always be aware of your words and actions.

38. Make Others a Priority

When was the last time you checked in with someone else and their wellbeing? How high up the list do you put them? Make them a priority and show them that they are being heard.

39. Meet Someone Where They’re at

You may not understand someone’s point of view or see a lack of experience compared to your own. But you can still meet them where they are and how they are still important to you. Find ways to use this to teach them how to be better. Find grace, patience, and understanding.

40. Save a Life

If someone’s in need and you answer the call, that simple act can change everything. Sometimes, the little things we do can already save or change the lives of others. Make the world a better place by saving those within it. This is the greatest thing you can do with all your talents, money, and time.

Final Thoughts

Can you think of more ways to make the world a better place? Then do it. Invite others to do it with you, too. This will change the world, but it will also change you. You will become happier and healthier to have done so.

Use this list anytime you need a good idea or a simple reminder of what you can do. No matter what you do, you are a hero. How you live is your legacy.

Featured photo credit: Andrea Tummons via unsplash.com

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