The other day I was at the grocery store and, as I was paying from my groceries and about to leave, the woman behind the counter handed me my change and said, "Have a grateful day!" My mind did a double take after hearing this. I'm so used to hearing "Have a great day" that I was surprised by her words. I turned to her and smiled and said, "Thank you! You too!" Of course she had no idea that at that very moment she was inspiring me to write this article about gratitude. The more I think about it, the more I realize that being grateful helps me stay in the moment. Sometimes I really struggle with being present (even though it's such an important part of my life these days) so when I'm feeling like I just can't handle whatever moment I'm in, I start thinking about all of the things I'm grateful for.
For example, let's say I'm standing in line somewhere and I'm in a hurry and I don't feel well and I have a million things piling up on my desk. Let's also say I haven't slept well so I'm extra cranky and it's just before lunchtime so I'm super hungry too. This is one of those moments where I'm not at all feeling like living in the presen. In fact, I'm pretty sure I want to be anywhere other than that moment. So what do I do? I take a deep breath, look around me, and start to focus my mind on gratitude. I ask myself, "What is good about this situation? What is good about my life right now?" When I do this, I instantly find myself centered in the now and actually happy for the moment. I begin to realize that, even though I'm tired and hungry and don't feel so good, all of those things will pass and later that day I'll be in bed, with a full belly, resting and recovering. I realize that, even though I'm waiting in a god-awful line in a crowded store, I'm lucky to be standing here, to be alive, and to have a capable mind and body.
In the past, I was happy to write a thank you note or to offer words of gratitude to someone who had helped me out, but the most I ever really thought about being thankful was when the Thanksgiving holiday was approaching and the whole concept of being grateful was forced upon me. I used to not really get the point of gratitude. Always looking for the purpose behind something, I never could quite figure out what I could get out of feeling grateful. I understood what I got out of telling others I was thankful, but I didn't really see the point of spending a lot of time being thankful internally. Until now. Now I realize just how important gratitude is. It actually serves a real, true purpose in my life. I use it to do so many things and you can too! Check out the many uses of gratitude...
The Uses of Gratitude
Use gratitude to center yourself. This is probably the greatest use I've found for gratitude. Whenever I'm feeling upset or angry or frustrated or down, I think about the things I am grateful for and I feel much, much better. It really is a great tool to use to tackle some of the hardest emotions and I find that it almost always snaps me out of whatever funk I've found myself in.
Use gratitude to live in the moment. When I'm struggling to live in the moment (as I often am!), I find that being thankful really helps to bring me into the present. It's easy to get caught up thinking about the past or worrying about the future, but when I look around and start thinking of all the things I have to be grateful for right now, I find that I'm really, truly living in the moment.
Use gratitude to enhance relationships. Nothing makes a relationship better than when you are truly grateful for the other person. Sure, all relationships have ups and downs, but if you keep gratitude in mind no matter what you're going through, you're more likely to have a much better relationship. Be grateful for the people in your life and you'll find that your appreciation comes through in your words and actions.
Use gratitude to motivate yourself. Sometimes I find that it's hard to get motivated and I wonder what I can really contribute to the world. That's when I start using gratitude again. Once I start thinking about all of the things I'm thankful for -- including my own abilities -- I feel a lot more inspired. Being grateful can motivate you to believe in yourself and it can also inspire you to look around you and see all that you have to offer the world.
Use gratitude to overcome hurdles. Life is pretty hard sometimes, but when you find yourself focusing on what you're grateful for, all of the trials you have to face become more manageable. I can't say that gratitude is a cure all for every problem, but it really does help to put things in perspective when you're going through a tough time. Next time you're feeling down, think of all the things you're grateful for. I guarantee you'll feel inspired!
Use gratitude to improve your health. I'm not a doctor or a scientist, but I've read on more than one occasion that being grateful can actually improve your physical health. I don't have any statistics to back up this claim, but I can say that gratitude greatly reduces my stress level, which ultimately makes me a much healthier person. One thing I know for sure: gratitude certainly can't hurt your health, so it's worth a try to start thinking grateful thoughts.
Clearly, being grateful has some pretty sweet benefits. I used to think all of this was a bit of nonsense and that people used gratitude as a distraction so they didn't think about all of the miserable parts of their lives, but now I realize that it really does have amazing benefits. There are so many things we should all be grateful for and even though it can be really, really hard at times to think about being thankful, it really does make even the worst situations more bearable. I really believe that having a grateful attitude gives us the power to turn any day -- even a really bad one! -- into a day worth celebrating.
[This was originally published on Positively Present in November 2009.]