5 Reasons Why Gratitude Is Truly Worth Cultivating And How To Make It Work In Real Life

Wired To Look For The Negative

Did you know that our brains are naturally wired to look for problems? It makes sense right? There was a lot of physical danger when we were dwelling in caves and our brain had to evolve to constantly be on the lookout. So it’s quite natural that we are always seeing the problems and challenges in our life. 

What We Focus On…

The problem is that this aspect of the brain is not always useful in today’s world. For me, my brain likes to wake me up at 4 AM to think about all the challenges I’m facing. This is not useful! 

The other way our brain works is that what we focus on we will see more of. Your brain is always filtering information and looking for what you tell it is important. The example I like to use to illustrate this is if you have ever been thinking about buying a specific model of car, you will literally start noticing that car everywhere. It’s because your brain now knows this car is important and will now notice it for you.  

This can be very useful if you are aware of this tendency of your brain. However, if you let your brain run on default and don’t tell it what to look for, it will mostly look for problems and challenges. That is why we have to be conscious about how we are directing our brain. 

What We Were Told As Kids

As a child I was a picky eater. I remember many meals sitting at the table not wanting to eat what was on my plate. I remember being told:

You should be grateful you have food! There are kids in the world who are starving!

I even find myself uttering the same type of lecture today when my kid doesn’t realize how good they have it! 

While well intended, this implies that we should be grateful for what we have when compared to what others don’t. This type of comparison usually doesn’t work. We can only know our own situation and our own experiences. Fortunately as a child, I didn’t experience starvation, so it’s absence was not something I could appreciate either.

5 Reasons Why Gratitude Is Actually Worth Cultivating

There are real reasons why gratitude is worth cultivating and it has nothing to do with other people and everything to do with you and your own brain. 

  1. Gratitude disconnects us from the negative and redirects us toward the positive.

As I already mentioned, our brain tends toward the negative as a way of looking out for danger. It’s just trying to protect us. However, when we consciously think about the positive aspect of something or what we are learning from our current challenge, we disconnect from that negative feeling and are redirected toward a more positive feeling.

How This Works In Real Life

Let’s say you just met with the oncologist and she outlined all the radiation treatments that will be required over the next several months for your partner. You’re both feeling a little defeated and depressed. You for sure need to acknowledge those feelings first. However, then one way to redirect your brain is to ask yourself, what is good about this? What can I be grateful for? Perhaps it’s that your partner is getting the treatment they need, even if it’s difficult. Or that you are moving forward and have a treatment plan. Or, now you can focus on how to help them through this treatment. Just moving your brain in this direction will take you out of the negative and make you feel better. 

  1. Cultivating gratitude helps to retrain the brain to look for things to appreciate.

Our brains are malleable. It will focus on whatever we tell it is important. When we focus on things in our life we are grateful for or appreciate, we are telling our brain that those things are important. Essentially, we are retraining our brain! It’s truly amazing if you think about it. The more we find things we are grateful for, the more our brain will automatically look for it. 

How This Works In Real Life

This does take effort at first, but it’s worth doing. You can start retraining your brain with a daily gratitude practice. Each morning or evening, write down 1-2 things you are grateful for. Really feel gratitude. Think about it and let the emotion flow through your body. You may have to start small and be grateful for the warm bed you have to sleep in. That’s OK. Remind yourself that you are retraining your brain.

  1. Feeling gratitude brings us to the present moment.

We all know that we should be more present in our lives. This is so difficult though! We are usually so occupied planning or wishing for a better future or lamenting the past. Well, one of the other benefits of focusing on something you are grateful for right now is it brings you to the present moment. The more we are present, the happier we are. 

How This Works In Real Life

Appreciate the moment you are in by taking notice. As I write this, my cat is sitting on my lap. She is a nice furry body that brings me a little joy when I pet her. When I focus on her, I am present. Try just picking any moment and finding something to appreciate. Perhaps it’s the color of the tree outside, or the way your kid lights up when the dog runs to them. Maybe it’s just the smell of the first cup of coffee. Focus on that moment with all your senses and appreciate it. 

  1. Gratitude actually makes us feel better by releasing “feel good” chemicals in our brain.

There is a lot of research that has shown that when we express gratitude, it triggers a chemical reaction in our brain. Literally! Both serotonin and dopamine are released when we feel thankful or grateful. If you want to learn more, just Google gratitude’s effects on the brain. It’s fascinating stuff! 

How This Works In Real Life

Knowing you are literally causing a chemical reaction in your brain is motivation to feel gratitude. How I have been incorporating this in my own life is just making a point to notice what I already have and love. It may be a vase I’ve always enjoyed, or having a car that is reliable and fun to drive. I’m on the lookout for what I can appreciate that is in my life already. Remember that it doesn’t matter what you are feeling grateful for, it is the emotion that is important.  

  1. Practicing gratitude has a compounding effect.

Just like financial assets, expressing gratitude has a compounding effect. The more you do it, the better you feel, so the more you do it. What a great side benefit! 

How This Works In Real Life

Expressing gratitude is it’s own reward and you will start feeling better right away once you start incorporating it into your life. This means, it’s not something you have to work super hard at, you just need to get started because the compounding effect means the motivation will come naturally once you start. I have certainly noticed this in my own life in just a few short days of focusing on gratitude. 

Look Around And Be Grateful For Something! 

Gratitude is all about us. It makes us feel better when we do it. As an added benefit, it’s easy to keep doing once we get started. Start small, but do start. Find something in your life that you appreciate. It is there!


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The 3 Secrets I Wish I Knew About Coping With My Partner’s Cancer

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