One of the most important muscles we have is the emotional muscle of gratitude. Because it’s a muscle, how can we exercise it and make it stronger?
Webster defines “contentment” as the choice to be at peace with yourself and at peace with the world around you. Contentment doesn’t lead to apathy. It leads to energy, where you feel more rather than just trying to feel better.
There is a reason why the religions of the world basically say that all there is, is all there is, and all there is, is enough. The ancient scriptures remind us of a contemporary truth—that if we cultivate discontentment instead of contentment, then no matter how much we accumulate or achieve, we will not be fulfilled or happy.
Interestingly enough, science has affirmed this truth. Being thankful leads to:
- Lower stress
- Stronger immune system
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Increased energy
- Less likelihood of depression
- Deeper sleep
- Stronger relationships
- Deeper sense of purpose
- Better coping strategies
Related: The Health Benefits of Gratitude
Our culture tends to celebrate self-glorification. Therefore, we set aside a day as a reminder to celebrate grateful hearts. Gratitude lifts us above our own demands and broadens our peripheral vision so that we take delight in the gifts surrounding us.
How is this possible when there is so much suffering?
It’s instructive to remember the Massachusetts Pilgrims original harvest celebration was surrounded by disease, death and deprivation. And when Abraham Lincoln gave the proclamation for this national day, it was 1863 in the midst of the worst conflict in American history, the Civil War. Both were marked by extreme suffering.
Gratitude is not a map as much as it is a compass that points us to the realities of numerous blessings. And it broadens our perspective so we can see the source of those blessings.
We will never see a movie full of contented characters living lives of gratitude. Yet it is the very thing that makes life at the same time both livable and delightful.
David Hume referred to gratitude as a calm passion. It doesn’t have the theatrical potential of anger, hatred, courage or sacrifice. We will never see a movie full of contented characters living lives of gratitude. Yet it is the very thing that makes life at the same time both livable and delightful.
Because it’s so important, what can we do to enhance it? Here are three exercises.
1. Be yourself.
This is a challenge in a world that’s trying to make you like everyone else. I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough, rich enough. It’s a virus that fouls up our emotional hard drive. It’s the temptation to change so people will like you. Work on being yourself, and the right people will love you. As counterintuitive as it is, it will increase your gratitude and contentment.
2. Live the only place you can… today.
It’s easy for all of us to try to live in another time and place. Some lament about what they could have done or might have become. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist. Think all you want about the past, but it won’t change a thing. Don’t fantasize about vacation at work. And don’t worry about all the work piling up on vacation. Instead, live today, focusing on all the blessings unfolding before you.
3. Saunter into your day.
The word “saunter” comes from the Middle Ages—saint terre. Everything was considered sainted, including the earth. Therefore, to saunter is to walk on the Earth with reverence for its holiness. The opposite is to “race.” In the fast lane, it’s hard to integrate or go deep. When we take the time to live in the slow lane and reflect on the wonders of life, we surround ourselves with a deeper, more profound experience of contentment. Don’t forget to saunter, i.e. enter your day slowly.
These three tips will help your gratitude muscle become stronger. You will grow in your contentment and attract more success into your life—including grateful people.
This post originally appeared on LeadershipTraQ.com.
Photo by karly.valencia/Twenty20