By Joeel A. Rivera
“Thankfulness brings you to the place where the Beloved lives.”
— Jalaluddin Rumi, Persian Sufi poet
Is gratitude the biggest key or secret to our happiness and well-being? Well that could be argued, but in reality the power of gratitude is a universal belief that is found in modern science as well as ancient societies. Many research studies have demonstrated that people who experience and express gratitude in their lives are significantly happier, have more functional relationships, are healthier, and live a more satisfying life. Buddhists, for example, believe that gratitude is an antidote for the poisons of greed, jealousy, resentment, and grief. Additionally, the Bible states,
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God.”
While writing this article, I found quotes from a number of belief systems around the world that all share a core conviction in the importance of gratitude. Indeed, there seems to be a universal understanding that gratitude is a key principle of life and happiness, and we can embrace it as a universal truth. Below I will share a limited number is insights from around the world, as to cover them all could fill up a whole magazine.
“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.”
— Hausa proverb from Nigeria
It is interesting that the most industrialized countries, with the greatest wealth, often rank lowest in happiness studies, while those countries with the least rank the highest. Part of the challenge that Americans face when in the pursuit of being truly happy is the dream that we have been sold that nothing is ever enough and that we must be in an ever-lasting journey to get more. As a result, many of us miss the Now and subsequently do not honor the blessings that are in front of us. The question is, what do you focus on? Do you express gratitude for the little things that most take for granted?
“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.”
— Native American prayer
How can we make room in our lives for better things if we can’t honor and be grateful for the things we have now? It is important to recognize that when we create a space of gratitude we begin to see more clearly all the blessings in our lives and this perspective increases the blessings we receive from others. When we come from a place of gratitude, we actually open our mind to seek more things to be grateful for, and the cycle of gratitude perpetuates and grows stronger.
Have you ever met a person who is genuinely grateful for a favor that you have done for him or her, no matter how big or small? How does that make you feel? On the other hand, have you ever done a favor for someone who does not express any gratitude and acts like he or she is entitled to the favor? How does that make you feel? Which person would you most be willing to give to openly in the future?
Most people are better at giving then receiving. Part of this is due to the fact that we like to give to others because contribution gives us purpose and meaning in our life. On the other hand, society has created a negative connotation with receiving, which often limits our ability to accept from others. However, the universe wants to give to the people who receive from a place of gratitude. Therefore, the next time someone blesses you with a kind act or gesture, release any negative feelings and openly receive with gratitude, allowing for that flow to carry forward to future blessings.
“A thankful person is thankful under all circumstances. A complaining soul complains even in paradise.”
—Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith
So, how do you shift your life to always come from a place of gratitude? One place to start is creating a gratitude journal. It can be a small journal that you can carry with you and write down things that you’re grateful for throughout your day. You can also, or instead, use the journal every day before you go to sleep or as you wake up by writing in it 10 things for which you are grateful. Researchers have found that after doing this for just 30 days people report being significantly happier in their life and actually find more things to be grateful for long term. This may explain why Kazuako Tanahashi (a Zen teacher and translator of Buddhist text) explains that it is essential to practice gratitude every day because
“Your life is a fortunate outcome of the continuous practice of the past. You should express your gratitude immediately.”
Writing down what you are grateful for not only changes your perception on a daily level but also changes your brain structure by changing what your mind looks for and focuses on. So even if you are having a challenging moment in your day or life, expressing gratitude can completely shift your experience.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
—William Arthur Ward
With that said, writing or expressing to yourself what you are grateful for is essential, but to fully receive and give the full benefits of gratitude you must openly express gratitude to the people for whom you are grateful. The more specific you can be with that person the better. For example, if you are in a relationship and you tell your partner that you are grateful for him or her being in your life it makes that individual feel special, but if you tell him or her specifically what and why you are grateful for it will make that individual feel more valued and more inclined to do or express the things that you truly appreciate. Most importantly, if you want to change your surroundings or your reality it is essential that it start from within. As you shift to an existence of gratitude it will serve to help shift those around you to experience and express their own gratitude.
“When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.”
Now, I want to take the time to express gratitude to the love of my life, Natalie, for being such an amazing light to this world as well as my world. Also, I would like to express gratitude to my daughter for continuously teaching joy and unconditional love, and my mom, dad, sister, brother, and the rest of my family for their love, compassion, and support. I also want to thank all my friends and everyone that takes the time every month to read this column. I am honored that you share your time and space with me and hope that I can continue to serve and at some level plant seeds that may impact your life.
Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed., Ph.D. (ABD) holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology. Joeel’s extensive career as a relationship coach includes certifications in P.R.E.P, a 30-year research-based program for couples, Nurturing Father’s curriculum, and Parenting 21st Century. Joeel is now offering coaching for a limited number of clients. Contact Joeel at firstname.lastname@example.org