The Transformative Power of Gratitude
The best way to start this is by giving an example.
Right now, I am cloaked in the warm sunshine of the early morning. I am grateful for the sunshine. I am grateful for the way it dances on my naked toes and face, the way it streams and dapples through fruit trees and bushes and illuminates flowers. I am grateful for the way it beams through the dark void of space to reach our blue and green planet. I am grateful for the plants it touches and their miraculous ability to convert that sunlight into nutrients that nourish the entire planet. I am grateful that, eons ago, this alchemy created an atmosphere that makes life possible.
This is gratitude. This is my expression of it.
I could go on for pages and pages about all the things for which I am grateful. Gratitude seems to be one of those positive feedback loops, where the more you express it, the more gratitude you have to express. And the more you express it, the better you feel.
Gratitude has recently garnered attention as science is starting to document this phenomenon. A great deal of research has found that feeling and expressing gratitude positively impacts mental and emotional state, leading to improved wellbeing.
People who consistently journaled on gratitude were found to exercise more, complain of fewer negative physical symptoms, feel more optimistic, and make more progress toward personal goals. Similarly, a gratitude exercise helped create a positive state of alertness, enthusiasm, determination and attentiveness. People who expressed gratitude were more likely to report having helped or supported someone recently.
I’m glad gratitude is getting this attention; it is well deserved. But, at the same time, the power of gratitude extends far beyond wellbeing. Gratitude has the potential to completely transform ourselves and our world.
In our capitalist system, citizens are regarded as and act as consumers. Their primary function is to consume the goods and services that fuel the economy. This ethic of consumerism hinges largely on a feeling of dissatisfaction. We feel the pressure to “keep up with the Jones’” because there is something about us that is inherently not good enough. Capitalism fuels a certain amount of malcontent, which in turn fuels consumption. And this consumption comes at the cost of exploitation of the Earth and human beings.
The reason gratitude is so powerful is because it directly pushes on that feeling of inadequacy. Capitalism teaches us to acknowledge what is insufficient; gratitude teaches us to acknowledge what is not just sufficient, but what is beyond good enough and is worthy of praise. Gratitude is an expression of what is already perfect as it is, what is a blessing, what is more beautiful and wonderful than our wildest dreams.
By consistently practicing gratitude, we cut right through the inadequacy that fuels consumption. We start to grow a muscle that acknowledges what is already good and notices less of what is not good enough. Our perception of the world actually starts to change. Instead of giving mental airtime to the voice that says my TV screen could be bigger and flatter or my income higher, gratitude turns the microphone to the voice that says, “Wow! Look at how amazing the world is!”
As we transform our inner thoughts, our outer actions change too. When we move from a place of gratitude, we move differently. Instead of rushing to buy the newest iPhone or taking another trip to Costco, we might favor time tending to relationships or doing something that feeds us. Suddenly there are fewer things that we need and more things that we love.
And think about what might change if all of us- or even a large portion of us- started thinking this way. Think about how our interactions with each other might change. Think about how our relationship to other beings and the Earth might change. Think about the wasteful industries that could crumble, the exploitative markets that might fail, and the new structures we might build.
Think about what a world bathed in gratitude might look and feel like.
So, I hope you will join me in offering gratitude, fervently and abundantly. This could take the form of a daily journal. You could start a practice of sharing with your friends or family before a meal. You could pick up a pen and make a list right now of three things for which you are grateful. You could leave a comment at the end of this blog post about something you are grateful for.
And, even if you don’t do it because you believe that it’s going to push on an exploitative capitalist system, at least you’ll end up a little healthier in the end.