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The Power of Having an Attitude of Gratitude

It’s 11:06pm and I’m the type of guy that likes to be in bed by 8:30pm. It’s about a billion degrees in our apartment. I have sweaty knee pits. Kels and I don’t want to be near each other because it’s so freaking hot in our cotton sheets.

I’m in pain from a herniated disc in my back, so that’s not helping the sleeping cause. I wedge a pillow beneath my pelvis. That seems to help… a little bit.

I’m also a few thousand in credit card debt, and with interest rates set to rise, it’s adding on to the no sleep momentum I have going. Not to mention I’m still working on that whole career and uncertain future thing.

It’s easy to find things to complain about. We all can write out a list of our problems. It’s hard to find things to be grateful for when life is a little dark and it’s past your bedtime. 

No, neither one of us are going through the Hell on Earth that those poor Syrian kids live through.

But that doesn’t mean a herniated disc doesn’t fucking hurt, and credit card debt doesn’t give you sweaty knee pits. Your problems are real too.

The Power of Gratitude 

So I finally got out of bed, lit some candles in our family room (what can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic), and pulled out one of my little note pads.

I scribbled down about 20 things I am grateful for in my life. Everything from my family and friends, to my functioning brain, to opportunities I’ve had, to my Ireland trip this summer, to Chipotle and the words of J. Cole.

My mood instantly flipped, and I was able to ease off to sleep.

This practice of gratitude is not as woo woo as you may think. Well-known positive psychologists like Tal Ben-Shahar and Shawn Achor have shared a plethora (SAT vocab word) of research behind the benefits of practicing gratitiude.

In one study, people wrote three letters of gratitude over three weeks (quick math: one letter per week) and saw an increase in happiness and life satisfaction, and also decreased depressive symptoms.

In another, people wrote down five (different) things they were grateful for everyday. It could be major, like health, or minor like cheeseburgers with a fried egg on top. Here’s what happened:

“Compared to the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life as a whole but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness.”

And if you want to get real weird with it, research by David L Cooperrider and Diana Whitney has shown that “when we appreciate the good in our lives, the good grows and we have more of it. The opposite, sadly, is also true: when we fail to appreciate the good—when we take the good in our lives for granted— the good depreciates.”

Real spiritual and out there, I know.

But you know how you get a new car, and then everybody else has that car? It’s same the color and everything. When I was pulling up to school in that ’03 Chevy Venture with clean maroon paint, it seemed like everybody else was driving it too and copying my style.

It’s like that. The more grateful you are, the more things you will notice to be grateful for due to selective attention, and vice versa if you are always complaining. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

The Gratitude Exercise:

“It’s not necessarily reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.” ~Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor is one of the few psychologists whose work I can read without falling asleep (despite the back pain).

This is an exercise from his work.

Like the research I talked above, join me for the next 21 days in writing out just three things everyday that you’re grateful for. They have to be different things every day, but they can be anything that you’re truly grateful to have in life.

Leave a comment below about what you’re feeling grateful for. Come check in over the next 21 days and keep adding to the discussion

And remember, sometimes life sucks, and that’s okay. But there are always things that we can appreciate.

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Reference:

Journal of Happiness Study: http://goodthinkinc.com/project/fast-company-10-simple-science-backed-ways-to-be-happier-today/

Ben-Shahar, Tal. “Chapter 3: Accepting Success.” Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. 159-61. Print.

See Cooperrider and Whitney (2005).

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