“The grass is always greener on the other side,” we’re told when a situation or season of life leaves us feeling discontent.
Believing that someone else has it better or that better days are ahead of us, we strive to pursue greater opportunities or nicer things. If our circumstances were different, we would be happier. So we continue down this trail and rob ourselves of one of the most valuable gifts life has to offer—gratitude.
Preacher Charles Spurgeon summed up the human mentality clearly in this quote: “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”
This thought sums up the behavior of many adults in our society. We desire bigger houses, newer cars, and nicer things. The luster of what we have quickly wears off as we look to the next advance. Rarely do we allow ourselves to enjoy what we already have.
Our constant pursuit of happiness leaves us wanting, expanding our desire rather than our satisfaction. So how then can we truly become content when our eyes are fixed ever forward?
When we open the door to living with more gratitude (even on the hard days), we begin to see that more “stuff” won’t supply us with lasting satisfaction. Here are five ways in which gratitude allows us to live healthier, happier, more meaningful lives.
Gratitude allows our attitude to become more optimistic
Is your glass half full or half empty? Research has found that when we’re optimistic and have positive thoughts about the future, our mental health and overall well-being improve. When we begin the day with gratitude and acknowledge what we’re grateful for, it allows us to focus on the present rather than casting a negative view on what could be better or different. Gratitude feeds optimism.
Gratitude keeps our expectations realistic
Being grateful for what we already have teaches us to keep our expectations in line with reality. We recognize our needs versus our wants. We’re more likely to spend within our means and resist impulse purchases. And we begin to realize that more “stuff” won’t make us happier, nor will elevating our material expectations.
Gratitude allows you to slow down
When we constantly seek the next hit of dopamine from a trip to the mall or an upgraded kitchen, we inevitably add to our financial burden. Getting more stuff means needing more money and having less time. If you hunger for new experiences instead of items, this same situation can play out. Or if we measure our worth by what we accomplish rather than having a basic appreciation for who we are, we can also run ourselves ragged. When we begin with gratitude, we can take a slower approach to life, and savor the moments that make up this life. Practicing gratitude leads to taking on less but making our commitments more meaningful.
Gratitude encourages better relationships
As we focus on the positive aspects of those closest to us, this allows for deeper, more intimate relationships—one of the key indicators of a healthy lifespan. Instead of complaining about what we would like to change in a person, gratitude allows us to focus on the good qualities and resist harboring negative views of that individual.
Think about those closest to you and consider making a list of the qualities you admire most about those people. Doing this produces positive feelings and encourages a healthier view of those relationships.
3 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude Each Day
Practicing gratitude may not be our natural tendency, but with mindful effort, we can learn to avoid the cycle of discontentment that comes from always striving for more. Consider these simple ways to practice gratitude every single day.
Whether you’re religious or not, acknowledging what we’re thankful for allows us to focus our thoughts on the positive parts of our life rather than the negative ones.
Each morning before getting out of bed, I say a brief prayer of gratitude—for my warm bed that allowed me a restful night’s sleep, the hot cup of coffee awaiting me, the beautiful sunshine pouring through the windows, and the opportunity to care for my children another day. This habit encourages me to start the day focusing on positives, instead of dwelling on what could be better.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Studies have found that when we practice gratitude, it helps us sleep better, lowers stress, and improve our relationships. Another study found that keeping a gratitude journal decreased materialism in young adults and also encouraged them to become more generous.
Writing in a gratitude journal has been key to my morning routine. I briefly list about five things I’m grateful for that day. Having this written down is also a powerful way to help with feelings of discontent on those hard days, as I can look back and remember what I’ve been grateful for in the past.
Practice Negative Visualization
The ancient stoics practiced a thinking technique called negative visualization, where they spent a short time imagining how the positive events in life could be taken away. While this may seem morbid to some, it helps to keep an attitude focused on what we’re truly grateful for without taking things for granted.
For example, if I’m frustrated with the task of having to constantly prepare snacks and meals for my family, I practice this technique by imagining how I would feel if we didn’t have access to enough food or the money to feed them. Sadly, this is a real problem for many adults and children around the world, so being grateful for the opportunity to feed them reminds me to be grateful rather than frustrated.
This practice allows us to appreciate what we have, understand the outcomes if we lose those blessings, and go forth with a grateful spirit by seeing that what we already have is often more than enough.
Even though the pull of society will tell us to reach for more in order to feel successful or happy, we can resist this urge by practicing gratitude. We’ll never feel fully satisfied with a mindset of wanting what we don’t yet have, so choose to break the cycle of discontentment and live a life filled with more peace by being grateful for what’s already yours.