Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Dan Bolton


“Have an attitude of gratitude.” 


I evoke this quote by the great yoga teacher, Yogi Bhajan, not only because Thanksgiving is coming up, but research project after research project is demonstrating that gratitude helps people feel happier and live healthier. 


What is gratitude, exactly? Dr. Wood, from the University of Warwick, defines gratitude as “a life orientation toward noticing and appreciating the positive in the world.” He further contrasts gratitude with “a depressive bias- where depressed people focus on the negative in the self, world, and future.” (Positive Psychology Association Newsletter, April 2008) 


In the world of the 24 hour news cycle, “maintaining a life orientation toward noticing and appreciating the positive in the world” is challenging, to say the least. As the business of the newsroom turns to sensationalism to drum up ratings in order to attract more viewers, to satisfy advertisers, and sell a story, we are increasingly exposed to negative headlines. This plays upon our fears and draws us into an endless string of stories that focus only on the bad things happening in the world.  


It’s not like pessimism did not exist before the advent of the 24 hour hour news cycle, but it sure seems that negative thinking is becoming a more predominant part of modern life. Whether you were brought up by anxious parents who tried to teach you right by only pointing out when you did something wrong, you are going through a major loss, or you have a genetic predisposition for anxiety or depression, we are all prone to negative thinking and it’s ill effects. 


A negative thought that typically resides within us in disguise is the thought, “I’ll be happy if...”. When we get caught in the thought pattern “I’ll be happy if” you are not only qualifying your happiness on something outside of yourself, you are also deferring your happiness for some future moment. Implied in this thought is that you are not happy NOW. If we succumb to this form of attachment, we become locked in what the Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called the metonymy of desire, wherein once we obtain what we think we want we immediately find ourselves in want of something else. This leaves us perpetually in a state of lack, feeling as if we are missing something.


To avoid giving the impression that I am sounding cliche, I want to differentiate what I am suggesting from the Law of Attraction presented in the book “The Secret.” Bad things will happen that are out of our control. This is inevitable, and life involves challenge. What I am trying to say is that it is our perspective that makes the real difference in what outcome such challenges have in our lives. We cannot expect to discover some secret from which we are able to bring only good things into our life. This is not realistic. 


The key to having an “Attitude of Gratitude” is acceptance. First accept that whatever is happening is in fact happening, then find acceptance with what is happening. Surrender to the wisdom of the moment. What does this moment in life have to teach you? What is the lesson here? Flow with what the world is putting on your doorstep, and you can create harmony with whatever is happening around you or even to you. You can rail against how unfair it is that your partner is breaking up with you, or how they broke up with you, or get paralyzed by anger at your boss or the fear of what will happen now that you’ve lost your job. Or you can take that pain as a wake up call. I am not suggesting that you only feel good emotions or that you shouldn’t feel those bad emotions, but what I am suggesting is that you do something different with them. If you can find a way to be grateful for what opportunity the bad may open up for you, then you are on the right track. This is important, because the key is...


That state of gratitude creates a positive vibration. When you emit that positive vibration from your being, you will in turn attract positive back to you. When you fight against what is happening in the moment you create a state of resistance. You become stuck in emotions such as anger and fear, and in that state of resistance you emit a negative vibration, which will attract a string of disharmony. Ever hear the saying, “when it rains it pours”? So, why continue to invest your energy into outcomes you don’t want by remaining stuck in worry and anger? Remember: Your energy goes where your energy flows! If you focus on anger, fear, worry, or depression you will only bring more of the same into your work, your love, and your life.


In addition to impacting your general outlook on life, your feelings, and outcomes in your work and relationships, negative thoughts break down your immune system, directly impacting your health. When our immune system is compromised, we are more prone to becoming sick. This is an especially important time of year to be conscious of this, since we are in the middle of the cold and flu season. Gratitude can lead to better physical health.


You choose which turkey you want to be: the one worried and lamenting its future or angry about it’s current circumstances? Or the one enjoying the moment, and finding gratitude, carving the good out of whatever the moment has to offer?