In my last post Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude, I talked about gratitude journaling and gave several scriptural references which support a gratitude practice. I also briefly mentioned some benefits of gratitude.
Since writing that post, gratitude has been a topic of discussion in my conversations with friends and the latest book I am reading has an entire chapter dedicated to gratitude. I therefore felt impressed to share with you my readers, more on gratitude, its benefits and relationship to happiness.
The information I will share with you is based on the writing of Alex Korb in his book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.
Alex Korb explains that gratitude is a state of mind. “there’s a gratitude circuit in your brain, badly in need of a workout”, he says. Similarly, I believe that happiness is a state of mind. We often tend to think that we will be happy when our circumstances change, or when we reach that big goal or attain the next accomplishment or when our spouse acts the way we want them to or when our children begin to behave. Yes, any of these things can affect our emotional state, but do they truly make us happy? I think not. Happiness is a state of mind and I believe it is also closely linked to gratitude. I recommend this article which also expresses that view as well as shares 8 tips for achieving happiness.
I have always been open about my challenges with anxiety and depression. By the way, I have learned from my physician and from reading, that mood disorders often run in families. If by chance you are experiencing similar challenges, it would be helpful to examine your family history and of course, see your physician as the first step in getting the help you need.
It should not surprise you therefore, when I share with you that a couple Fridays ago I was feeling so badly emotionally that it led to a crying fit. I felt sooo miserable and unhappy, that I worried that I was slipping into a depressive mood. Well, just days later, I was feeling happy at peace and alive. What is interesting is that nothing in my environment or my circumstances changed. What changed was my attitude and perspective.
Over the next couple of days, I did something nice for someone else contributing to that person having a great day and I found time to do something I enjoyed. I also looked for things to be grateful for, like the warm gentle breeze I felt one afternoon. I happen to love windy days and always enjoy feeling a warm breeze brush across my skin. Sometimes we tend to forget or take for granted these simple things, which when truly appreciated can make a world of difference in our lives.
Years ago I thought that my happiness depended on my circumstances. I admit, sometimes I am still tricked into believing that once certain circumstances change in my life I will be happier. However, I am wiser now and I know better. Of course, we are affected by our circumstances. Of course we experience an array of emotions based on our circumstances, but if we agree that happiness is a state of mind then our circumstances may affect our emotions not our happiness. It is negativity and discontentment, not our circumstances, that fuel our unhappiness.
Korb writes in his book, “gratitude is a potent antidote to negativity, because it doesn’t depend on your life circumstances.” You can be grateful and you can be happy despite your circumstances. Here are some of the benefits of gratitude that Korb explains in his book.
The Benefits of Gratitude
- Reduces anxiety and worrying – there is a limit to how many things your brain can focus on at once. So when you spend more time being grateful or focusing on the positive things in your life, there is less time to focus on the possibility of something bad happening. Not only has gratitude proven to reduce anxiety and worrying but it also improves sleep and reduces pain.
- Improved physical health – research has shown that people who are grateful enjoy greater physical and mental health. Grateful people also showed more willingness to do something about poor health. This is believed to be mediated by the hormone serotonin.
- Increases social support – research has shown that gratitude increases quality of life, level of optimism and connectedness with others. Social support and connectedness is especially increased when we show gratitude towards others.
- Gratitude activates the part of the brain that produces the hormone dopamine which is responsible for increasing enjoyment and is necessary for changing bad habits. Gratitude towards others increases activity in the social dopamine circuits of the brain which makes social interactions more enjoyable.
- Gratitude increases serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for willpower, motivation, and mood. While thinking of things to be grateful for increases serotonin production, focusing on sad or negative events decreases serotonin production.
What Gratitude is Not
Korb advices, when practicing gratitude do not compare yourself to others. I admit, I was guilty of this. “I am thankful to have a job or to have this or that, because so many people don’t have that”, I would say. That is not gratitude. Gratitude is showing actual appreciation for what you have. When you compare yourself to others, what you are in fact doing is activating circuits of social comparison in your brain. If you are practicing social comparisons, then you are more likely to think that people are practicing social comparison about you, Korb explains. Of course this can also eventually lead to negative feelings. After all, comparison is the thief of all joy.
It is okay, if you can’t find anything to be grateful for. It is not finding gratitude that matters most, it is remembering to look for it in the first place, says Korb. With gratitude, it is the searching that activates the circuitry.
Wrapping it Up…
There is a definite relationship between gratitude and happiness and neither are dependent on our circumstances. I am truly grateful to have learned this lesson and for the willingness and strength to not just learn it but practice what I learned. I am first to admit that it is a work in progress and that growth is a process.
It is said of the Chinese bamboo tree, that it stays five years in the ground, with it being watered and nurtured before it shoots up. When it does however, it grows 90 feet in 5 weeks. Growth is a process, so if you are working on cultivating a gratitude practice or being more positive or even dealing with depression and anxiety or working on growing in some other area of your life, be patient with yourself. Your willingness to learn, to grow and to take action counts. So don’t be too hard on yourself, be consistent and don’t give up. One day you will realize that like the Chinese bamboo tree you have grown 90 feet tall.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you found it helpful. If you did, remember to share it with a friend 😊 Until next time, be safe and be Blessed!💖