Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude Makes Us Better
Moving into fall and the “holiday season” can be no holiday for some of us. But the celebration of Thanksgiving has something that’s built into it that can lift your spirits – giving thanks and being grateful.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone's gratitude, it's a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further. * *
In research, gratitude is associated with greater happiness, that can motivate behaviors that ultimately lead to self-improvement and positive change. It can motivate and energize us to pursue our goals and become better, more socially engaged people. ***
Those who practice gratitude on a regular basis reported fewer physical symptoms of illness and spent more hours exercising each week. Gratitude influences the positive sense of well-being we feel which spills over into other relationships in our lives.
There are four main ways gratitude can motivate us to improve ourselves and our communities: Connectedness, Elevation, Humility, and Indebtedness. ***
- Connectedness – Feeling grateful helps us to examine our relationships which can lead us to feel closer and more connected to others. By strengthening our social bonds we build a stronger network of support and encouragement that can help us face the challenges in our lives.
Feeling close and connected to others may motivate us to improve ourselves and become better people because we want to prove that we are worthy of our relationships and because we feel encouraged, supported, and inspired by the people in our lives.
- Elevation - “Elevation” is scientists’ name for the uplifting feeling we get when we see people performing great acts of kindness; it is associated with a warmth in one’s chest and feeling moved to be a better person. Importantly, feeling elevated inspires people to be more generous, perhaps to emulate the moral acts of others. *** When we feel inspired and uplifted it supports our personal motivations toward self-improvement as well as opens us up to better productivity and health.
- Humility – Expressing gratitude takes the focus away from ourselves and forces us to recognize that many of our successes are due, at least in part, to the actions of other people. Humility enables us to see clearly how others have supported us and encourages us to help others in turn.
- Indebtedness – Sometimes when we acknowledge the extent that someone else has helped us along the way we feel humbled and a little indebted. Indebtedness may be a motivation to reciprocate the good that others have given us. Thus, pushing us to strive for our goals, support others and become better human beings.
The attitude of gratitude derived from feelings of connectedness, elevation, humility, and indebtedness may motivate us to put forth more effort towards school, work, our communities, and our relationships, perhaps even prompting us to strive for goals we would otherwise not have thought possible.
Gratitude may, therefore, have the power to do more than make us happy and motivate us to improve our own lives. It can inspire us to become more productive members of society and better citizens of the world. ***
** Harvard Health Publishing: Giving Thanks can make you happier, Aug 14, 2021
*** Greater Good Magazine: How gratitude motivates us to become better people., May 23, 2017