Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

cultivating an attitude of gratitudeOn Tuesday we posted an article about how gratitude can help you on your journey to acceptance after an affair. The author’s mention of the practice of gratitude intrigued us and motivated us to do a little bit more research on the subject.

Today we wanted to delve a little bit more into this whole gratitude thing; the why’s and the how’s so that perhaps it can make a difference for you moving forward.

Like us, you may be skeptical that you can muster any shred of gratitude out of the ashes of an affair, but as you read this, perhaps keep an open mind and maybe give it a try and see if it is beneficial for you. It can’t hurt and you may be surprised.

We’re not here to say it’s the answer to all of life’s problems and pains, but simply want to provide you with additional possibilities for healing and happiness.

What is gratitude?

One of the definitions we found was quite simple: Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Sounds easy and like something most of us do virtually every day without notice or thinking about it. In fact, it is such an essential part of our life that it is often dismissed as being so simple, obvious and not worthy of our attention.

However, that has recently started to change as scientists have begun to research gratitude and the circumstances in which it thrives or weakens.

These researchers are finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Physical
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

Social
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

definition of gratitudeWhat good is gratitude?

The leading expert on gratitude appears to be Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Emmons highlights four main reasons why gratitude might have these transformative effects on people’s lives.  He writes:

1.  Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. It magnifies positive emotions. Research on emotion shows that positive emotions wear off quickly. Our emotional systems like newness. They like novelty. They like change. We adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long, the new car, the new spouse, the new house—they don’t feel so new and exciting anymore.

But gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.

In effect, I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness. We spend so much time watching things—movies, computer screens, sports—but with gratitude we become greater participants in our lives as opposed to spectators.

2.  Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness. There’s even recent evidence, including a 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality, showing that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression.

This makes sense: You cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time. They’re incompatible feelings. If you’re grateful, you can’t resent someone for having something that you don’t. Those are very different ways of relating to the world, and sure enough, research I’ve done with colleagues Michael McCullough and Jo-Ann Tsang has suggested that people who have high levels of gratitude have low levels of resentment and envy.

3.  Grateful people are more stress resistant. There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. I believe gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events and help them guard against post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety.

4.  Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.

Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made to your life—once you realize that other people have seen the value in you—you can transform the way you see yourself.

be gratefulSo how in the world can we do this?

Some of you may be thinking… “OK, that’s all well and good, but my life has been decimated by betrayal. How is this going to help and how the heck can I be grateful at all?”

At a time such as this it’s hard to see positive forces when pain and other obstacles are blaring and our fears are welling up inside. When this happens we feel stuck.

The folks at Unstuck.com say that this is a precisely when it’s a good time to be grateful. Not grateful for what has us stuck, but appreciating what doesn’t.

Gratitude helps us see our situation in a way that can lessen panic, and could open up our thinking to new solutions.

Dr. Emmons in fact believes that when a crisis strikes, not only will a grateful attitude help – it is essential –  and is when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life.

Emmons says, “In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”

In these instances gratitude will not necessarily come easy, nor naturally, and Emmons believes that it is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful.

“We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points.

But being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve—but my research says it is worth the effort.”

Remember the bad

Gratitude may be helpful for those who have experienced infidelity as research indicates that gratitude can help us cope with crisis.

Dr. Emmons says that “Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals. The contrast between suffering and redemption serves as the basis for one of my tips for practicing gratitude: remember the bad.

It works this way: Think of the worst times in your life, your sorrows, your losses, your sadness—and then remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through the worst times of your life, you got through the trauma, you got through the trial, you endured the temptation, you survived the bad relationship, you’re making your way out of the dark.

Remember the bad things, then look to see where you are now.

Remembering the bad can help us to appreciate the good. As the German theologian and Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

We know that gratitude enhances happiness, but why? Gratitude maximizes happiness in multiple ways, and one reason is that it helps us reframe memories of unpleasant events in a way that decreases their unpleasant emotional impact. This implies that grateful coping entails looking for positive consequences of negative events. For example, grateful coping might involve seeing how a stressful event has shaped who we are today and has prompted us to reevaluate what is really important in life.”

Letting goReframing disaster

To say that gratitude is a helpful strategy to handle hurt feelings does not mean that we should try to ignore or deny suffering and pain.

To deny that life has its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks, and sadness would be unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.

So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.

If you are troubled by an open memory or a past unpleasant experience, you might consider trying to reframe how you think about it using the language of thankfulness. The unpleasant experiences in our lives don’t have to be of the traumatic variety in order for us to gratefully benefit from them. Whether it is a large or small event, here are some additional questions to ask yourself:

  • What lessons did the experience teach me?
  • Can I find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened?
  • What ability did the experience draw out of me that surprised me?
  • How am I now more the person I want to be because of it? Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude in the time since it occurred?
  • Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful?

Remember, your goal is not to relive the experience but rather to get a new perspective on it. Simply rehearsing an upsetting event makes us feel worse about it. That is why catharsis has rarely been effective. Emotional venting without accompanying insight does not produce change. No amount of writing about the event will help unless you are able to take a fresh, redemptive perspective on it. This is an advantage that grateful people have—and it is a skill that anyone can learn.

attitude of gratitudeCultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

Like any skill worth having, gratitude requires practice. Unstuck.com offers these 9 ways you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Notice your day-to-day world from a point of gratitude and be amazed at all the goodness we take for granted.
  2. Keep a gratitude journal. All it requires is noting one or more things you are grateful for on a daily basis. No fancy notebook, no computer program required.
  3. If you identify something or someone with a negative trait (the cold conference room), switch it in your mind to a positive trait (the conference room with
    a great view).
  4. Gratitude requires humility, which the dictionary defines as “modest and respectful.” Explore where it fits in your life. The article“Humility: A Quiet, Underappreciated Strength”is a good start.
  5. Give at least one compliment daily. It can be to a person or it can be asking someone to share your appreciation of something else (“I love how quiet it is in the morning, don’t you?”).
  6. When you find yourself in a bad situation ask: What can I learn? When I look back on this, without emotion, what will I be grateful for?
  7. Vow to not complain, criticize, or gossip for 10 days. If you slip, rally your willpower and keep going. Notice the amount of energy you were spending on negative thoughts and actions.
  8. Sound genuinely happy to hear from the people who call you on the phone. Whether the caller responds with surprise or delight, he’ll know you value speaking with him.
  9. Become involved in a cause that is important to you. Donate money or time or talent. By joining in, you’ll gain greater appreciation for the organization, and it will appreciate you more, too.

Additionally, here is a video by Dr. Emmons where he talks about how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

More resources

 

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9 Responses to Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

  1. exercisegrace February 20, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    I enjoyed this article very much, but the list of questions at the end made me shake my head. Can I find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened? The answer to that is a resounding NO. And I am not a better person for having been cheated on. The affair didn’t just impact ME, it damaged my kids. My daughter has struggled with anxiety and depression in the wake of the affair. I am perfectly OK with saying his affair was hands down the worst thing that has ever happened to ALL of us. We have done therapy, we have set boundaries, we have worked hard. It is OK to call something horrific. It is OK to say, I am a better person IN SPITE of the affair, not BECAUSE of the affair. It is OK to say that an experience was a BAD experience, and leave it at that. We don’t have to tie it up in a pretty bow and talk about how in the end it was so GREAT. Nope. Embrace the “suck” of it, kick some dirt over that crap and move on! As long as we don’t live in the past, and get mired in what “was”, we are doing just fine on this journey of recovery from infidelity.

    I have always had an attitude of gratitude. Partly that is my personality and part of it is in my chosen profession, I have witnessed countless times how fragile life is. I have seen how much worse things can be. Each day on this earth is a celebration. I adore my children and my family. I take pleasure in the simple things in my life. I am thankful for what God has blessed me with.

    I like the list at the end. I do many of those things, and I did them before the affair sent me spinning sideways for a time. When I was able to lift my head up again, I made a conscious choice to re-engage in life. To pick up relationships that had had gone off track during the stress of what we lived through. Some days it is harder than others, but I try every day to focus on THIS day. I try to make it stand alone, and not view it through the lens of the affair or what I have lost.

  2. Broken2 February 21, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    I will definitely never be thankful nor grateful for my husbands stupidity. I liked who I was before the affair in many ways because I was a very trusting person. I liked the fact that I thought I shared a unique relationship with my hubby of just he and me and not a her. That was ripped from me never to return. I am more cynical now, less open to joy and I definitely will never trust a word that comes out of his mouth all though I have learned to deal with it. I guess I am thankful for the nudge the fair gave me to go back to school and get a career but I am doing that because I want something of my own. I won’t be dependent on him financially ever again and that gives me independence. To be honest I loved being a mom and staying home with my kids, they are all awesome but that didn’t prepare me to support myself. I didn’t get married to suffer and no obstacles were move that I actually wanted to be moved. Seeing my husband no longer through rose colored glasses I guess could qualify for an object removal.

    • TryingHard February 23, 2015 at 11:28 am #

      Smart girl Broken2 going back for training/school. Biggest mistake of my life was buying into that whole SAHM crap. Because you never know when someone’s going to change their mind and all of a sudden there you are with NO means of support. Very foolish!!!!

      If there were EVER a letter I would write to my younger self it would be stay working NO MATTER WHAT. Deal with the fact that dinner isn’t ready every night, deal with the fact that the house is a disaster and laundry isn’t done. Take care of yourself financially. Keep up with your education or skill sets.

  3. gizfield February 23, 2015 at 7:05 am #

    I’m sure there are some people who are helped by this article and it’s message of gratitude in spite of adversity, and that’s great. I’m personally not one of them, at least not in the case of cheating.

    There’s two types of situations, one type is pretty much out of a person’s control, that cause bad things. Weather, disease, war, political corruption, stuff like that. “Collateral damage” types of things. Then there are the bad things inflicted upon, directly by another person. Lying, cheating, stealing, murder. Things one person deliberately chose to do, to you.

    I can personally think of not one single thing to be grateful for in the case of my husband being a Cheater. It would have to be a pretty damn big benefit to counteract the effect of the lying, cheating, and sneaking that he did, believe me. I’ve tried the whole “forced” gratitude in the past and all it really did was make me feel like I was betraying myself and living in an unauthentic way.

    The real people who would benefit from the Attitude of Gratitude are the Cheaters. They are the ones who did some heinous shit and for the most part didn’t suffer the appropriate consequences. He knows he should be stuck with his co cheater or living the Single Life, neither of which he wants. He sure as hell doesn’t want to be known as a Cheater, and will go to any extreme to avoid that.

    My husband knows what he did was wrong. The main thing I would like to say to him is “Do you realize what a FOOL you have made of yourself?” Over some two bit hussy no less. The fact that he almost wets his panties, lol, over the thought of being exposed for his crappy behaviour confirms to me that Yes, he does know what a fool he made of himself. Cheaters keep this crap secret for a reason, and once the spouse knows that reason is shame. Whether they admit that or not is irrelevant, it’s still shame.

    There’s that old saying “What has been seen cannot be unseen.” I can’t unsee what a slimy, lying, cheating creep my husband was when he was sneaking around with his whore. Neither can he. Pretending to be grateful for any thing that came about because of that wouldn’t help me. I’ve tried it before.

  4. gizfield February 23, 2015 at 7:11 am #

    I totally agree with everything Exercise Grace and Broken 2 said, as well. Great comments.

  5. Shifting Impressions February 23, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    Gotta love this stuff. Of course I see the value of gratitude. I am overwhelmed by the things and people in my life I have to be thankful for……BUT my husband’s EA is NOT one of them. There are lessons to be learned as a result of hard times but, to be thankful that the person I loved and trusted more than anyone else on this earth spent over a year deceiving me is something that is not going to happen.

    I don’t want to become hard or bitter as a result of his betrayal but Oh something so very precious was lost. We will find a way to put it all back together and probably grow as a result but I am allowed to grieve what was lost…….and that does NOT make me ungrateful just real.

  6. TryingHard February 23, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    I’m right with all you lovelies!! You’ve all said.

    As I’ve said before, if my HUSBAND’S affair is the WORST thing that ever happens to me, I will be the luckiest woman on earth!

    I know everything I have is by the Grace of God. I don’t need anyone’s lists to remind me that which I should be grateful. Good article though and certainly a reminder to live in the moment and gratitude no matter what life throws at you.

  7. Carol February 23, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    I’m three years out from my H’s EA. I also experienced a lot of trauma growing up; I’d confided in my H about that, and he used it to complain about me to the OW and get her sympathy. That was the deepest betrayal of all. I’m not grateful for any of those things. I wish they’d never happened. But I find I can still be grateful for some things. I’m grateful that my mother has always been and always will be firmly in my corner. She proved that in spades after the EA. I’m grateful that when I found out about the affair, my very first reaction was to tell my H, calmly and matter-of-factly, that if he thought his opera whore was a better person than his faithful wife of 17 years and the mother of his three children, then he was too much of a fool for me and I’d be happy to see him leave. I’m grateful that my sister had my back. I’m grateful that my brother-in-law offered to beat up my H. (!) I’m grateful that after the EA I got my sweet, loving little dog — I needed a loyal male in my life, heh. I’m now grateful that my H saw the light and is getting it together. I’m grateful for the raw honesty of all of the people who come here, and the support offered here. That is not to say that I wouldn’t undo all of it if I could somehow reverse time and become a superwoman who could stop the affair before it got going. (Impossible, really, I know.) I’m definitely not grateful that it happened. I suppose I think that one can be grateful for some things that were revealed to me in the wake of the affair without being grateful for the affair itself. I paid a very high price for my H’s selfishness. But I’m trying to minimize the ongoing payments, if that makes sense. Just my way of thinking about it now; I wouldn’t have said that 3 years ago, and I hope I haven’t offended anybody with what I’ve said.

  8. Strengthrequired February 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    Carol, three years here too. I don’t believe you have offended anyone, well I wasnt. Lol
    I a, not grateful for the affair, but I am grateful that I found out about it and wasn’t kept in the dark. I’m not grateful for what was done to me and my children, but I am grateful my h is doing his best to make things right. I am not grateful to the ow, no way would I be grateful to her, I wish she never came into our lives, but I am grateful that my h now sees what she is, and she is nolonger apart of our lives, she has her own life away from us. Yay, grateful.
    I am not grateful for the trauma and the loss of what I believed to be a marriage that may of had flaws in some areas, but we were faithful to each other and loving, yet I am grateful that we have the chance to keep our family together, that we have the chance to heal and recover. I am not grateful that a ow took time away from my children especially time my at the time ony year old and three year old needed, yet I am grateful that they get to have their dad and his time now. I am not grateful to the sadness the ow put in my children’s hearts, yet I am grateful that I was able to keep their family together and help restore happiness into their lives.
    I am not grateful for the huge financial loss had due to the affair, but I am grateful that we still have our home and our business. I am not grateful for the scars left due to the affair, but I am grateful they we made it through to the other side. I am not grateful for all that has happened due to the affair, I am not grateful for the loss of trust, for my h loss of morals and self respect and loss of respect he had for me and our marriage, yet I am grateful that we feel more inclined not to let something like this happen again. I’m grateful that I have the chance to learn to trust again.

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