In a world where so many people are given unearned privileges while others suffer undeservingly, being told to “be grateful” can come off as condescending. But beyond empty platitudes and friendly remarks, are there real tangible benefits to expressing gratitude, or is it just a nice thing to do and nothing else?
Let’s find out!
It’s The Way We Think
First of all, yes, there is empirical evidence from many psychological studies that practicing gratitude is indeed helpful on many levels. But it isn’t so much a boost in dopamine or serotonin in the brain as it is a shift in the way we perceive interpersonal relationships for the better.
When we realize that no matter how independent and self-reliant we may be, we still benefit from others’ acts of kindness, love, and friendship, this signifies a change in perspective.
From a system based on mutual reciprocity, very close to say Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, where people only console or help each other, only because they expect the same in return, to another one. A system where our actions are motivated by a general faith in mankind, not in a naive bleeding-heart way, where we see everyone as inherently good, but one where we are thankful to our friends and even family for spending time with and believing in us, now aware of the fact they don’t have to, but choose to.
It is precisely the recognition of agency and choice that makes these things significant and in turn, warrants gratitude.
It works both ways, too – acts of friendship and kindness don’t require gratitude; these people won’t stop doing kind things if you don’t thank them – which in turn makes the gratitude all the more valuable and meaningful.
Humans Work This Way
There is also another much more pragmatic reason for why gratitude is so important – it’s the basis of human society.
If you think about it, all human collectives larger than one single family (that is, anything equal or larger than a tribe) are based on trust. Trust that we can sacrifice a bit of our freedom for increased security, prosperity, and happiness. Therefore, we cannot have that oh-so-necessary trust if we do not practice some form of gratitude to upkeep it.
Gratitude is also a way to recognize one’s advantages in life, even if others do have it much better than us. Many of us had heard the old line “there are kids starving in other countries” when they didn’t want to eat their vegetables, and while corny, it is true. Obviously, this shouldn’t be used to guilt people into a certain behavior, but as a reminder that life isn’t as bad as we often think it is.
In short, gratitude is also the grease can that lubes up the squeaky wheel, the sheen that keeps the car paint clean, and the oil that keeps the pan well seasoned.
Gratitude is the upkeep of all our relations. It costs nothing, not even your pride, the way sucking up to someone does, and it’s a great way to surprise someone positively.
So, is practicing gratitude beneficial? The answer would appear to be yes.
Gratitude has a positive effect on mental health, physical health, relationships, and work performance.
It’s also associated with increased happiness and well-being.
If you’re looking for a way to improve your life, start by … Noticing the things around you, your friends, family, and what you have in your life and appreciate it!