This morning I witnessed a very beautiful sunrise. Brilliant reds and oranges enveloping the sky. It kept changing shape and I tried to capture its brilliance with my camera phone. But then I just let it go.
I simply breathed it in from the rooftop of my work. There’s nothing like a Fall sunrise where I live in Idaho. Then it was gone. Here’s what I was reminded of: 1.) Fall teaches us the beauty in just letting go. 2.) Appreciate the pleasurable moments as they come along.
For some reason, I was struggling with writing something about gratitude for this article because I didn’t want it to sound contrived or cliched. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know about the benefits of being thankful.
But then gratitude smacked me right in the face with the beauty of a “fluffy orange nature hug,” otherwise known as a sunrise. It’s simple, really. Here’s what expressing gratitude does:
1. Gratitude puts life in perspective
Expressing thankfulness doesn’t come easy for some people. Others complain incessantly. You know the people I’m talking about. What one person thinks is a burden, another person cherishes.
Here’s a great, real-life example I read on a mother’s blog recently about school being cancelled because of snow. Her first instinct wasn’t gratitude to spend time her her kids for the day. Her first instinct was to scream into a pillow. Her second reaction was to rant on Facebook:
“A good mom would RELISH the chance to stay inside with her wound up kiddos all day, right? A good mom would have all the ingredients for homemade chocolate chip cookies on hand… and then happily entertain a flour fight as we all got dough up to our elbows making memories, right?? I mean, that is how they do it in the commercials, right???”
Comments started pouring in from working moms who don’t get enough time to spend with their kids, stay-at-home moms happy to have their husbands home to spend time with the family, teachers who deserve and need a break to spend time with their own child, the childless women who would have loved a snow day if only they had a child to spend it with.
Her close friend wrote this: “Sorry to poo on your party… but sounds like a great day for gratitude. I never had kids and would have loved to have had snow days. They might be really excited to be home with you cause you’re so much fun. I have another friend named Becky. We call her Fun Becks. Today, be Fun Becks. Sounds like a great day for acceptance and stretching. Or not. Love you.”
And there you have it. Becky had an instant shift in perspective. Gratitude and acceptance. The beauty is in balancing the snark with your perception of others’ life experiences. Plus, moms are always missing their kids half way through summer camp.
2. Gratitude keeps us grounded
If you ever feel like you’re drifting aimlessly through the day, try to think of one good thing surrounding you that day. You are in control of what you are grateful for. How awesome is that?
Every night before dinner, a friend of mine (a single mother) and her son share one thing they are thankful for that day. I know this may sound like an after-school-special moment, and it kind of is, but it does work and it can feel genuine.
It’s a humbling experience to hear what other people are thankful for and to offer up your own bit. “I’m thankful I am sitting here with both of you and sharing this delicious meal together,” I said. Verbalizing your thanks to people you care about is a good thing.
4. Gratitude makes us happier
For depression sufferers, it can be tough. Gratitude is only for the happy people, right? No, it’s for everyone. Some of the most grateful people I know are the ones who’ve experienced the hardest challenges in life.
Numerous studies have shown the positive effects showing gratitude has on the brain. Without analyzing science too much, can’t we just say it feels good and makes us happy to show gratitude?
Here’s the clincher: Happiness doesn’t make us grateful, it’s the other way around. Gratitude makes us happy.
4. Gratitude is a practice in self-care
I would be remiss not to mention Robert Emmons, PhD, a leading scientific expert on gratitude and author of several books on the topic. Emmons’ studies showed that people who displayed self-care through gratitude had fewer health issues, felt more positively about the future, and fell asleep more quickly, among other benefits.
When you aren’t expecting anything in return or doing it out of guilt, it’s freeing to show gratitude. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to remind yourself of all the things you have to be thankful for in life. Tell the people who matter to you that you are thankful for them.