What is Gratitude?
As per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Gratitude is defined as: “a feeling of appreciation or thanks” Put simply, being thankful. But gratitude is much more than saying thank you. It is perhaps one of the most powerful mindsets we as an individuals can employ. There are many reasons why gratitude works, but there are also countless reasons why we often ignore it. In this post I am going to discuss the Attitude of Gratitude I learned from my coaches and mentors at Penn State, how I employ it in my daily life, and teach you how to learn and utilize it as well. An attitude of gratitude is not something that can be learned and applied right away, but it is something that with practice can change your entire outlook and direction in life. I am honored and grateful to be able to help you learn what this mindset means to me, and to help you learn to employ it as well. Thank you for this chance, let’s get started!
Gratitude Works, but it also takes work!
When you are a kid some of the first words you learn are please and thank you. Now, a lot of us as children really just use these as formalities. We are conditioned to say please to get something, and say thank you in a rush when we receive the object of our desire. Now, any parents reading this can attest that there is such a thing as “thankless gratitude” in other words the short and curd “Thanks” you often get when you do or give something. Gratitude in the sense that I am talking about is not a surface level “thank you” but a true deep sense of thanks and appreciation. When you experience gratitude in life I would wager that often it is out of a sense of thanks that something DIDN’T happen to you, rather than the opposite which is happening TO you. How many times have we said “Well thank God that wasn’t us.” about another’s misfortune? Or how many times have you given thanks that someone or something was now someone else’s problem? This is true of many things in our lives. We often count our blessings insofar as they are an avoidance of negative things.
Gratitude isn’t just being grateful for the good things in life either. Hence why gratitude takes so much work to learn, cultivate, and apply. Like an oak tree gratitude is a powerful virtue because it plants deep roots. These strong roots are necessary to weather the storms that life throws at you. Because, as I said gratitude isn’t always a positive thing. The thing about a virtue is they aren’t inherently good or bad, patience can’t really be labeled as bad or good, neither can gratitude. The main reason that gratitude takes work is because you need to learn to apply to all things in life, both good and bad. Let me elaborate a bit here, as I said gratitude is objective, there’s no feelings associated with the virtue. We apply those as human beings. It is easy to be grateful for success, we experience that daily. The happiness that comes with a win in some aspect of our life, what’s hard is being grateful for the bad things in life. The lessons, the trials, the hardest things we can face as people. For example, one way many will experience gratitude in a bad situation is often the death of someone close to them. It is incredibly hard to be grateful for a death, but it is part of the grieving process. Even when we feel someone is gone too soon, we often remark that we will cherish the times we had. The pain of the death will not be easy but with gratitude we can choose to focus on the good, the memories, the good times, and we keep their spirit alive in our hearts. This is not something that comes easy, I have experienced this first hand. It is difficult to try and focus on the good when so much of the situation makes you question why these things happen.
Gratitude in this situation is the strongest utilization of the virtue, the ability to take the worst life can throw at us and make it into a positive thing. It keeps us even keeled, allows us to move on peacefully and to flip the script from horrible to tolerable. I am not saying that learning gratitude will make life easy, nothing about life is easy. But it can make it easier, it can make it simpler to see the good in everything. But before we can use it we must build it.
Building your Gratitude Muscles:
Like any other muscle in the body or habit we form in our life, gratitude must be trained and applied. You can’t lift twice your bodyweight in a workout without first practicing form and training to work up to that weight. Gratitude is much the same, even when I first learned it I thought I knew what it meant to be grateful and thankful. But I soon learned I was basically taught how to to a gratitude pushup, I wasn’t ready to lift heavy in gratitude. My freshman year at Penn State when our coaches made us write down things we were grateful for at the start of practice was the first time I started to apply it. Once I made it a habit of writing down things I was grateful for that day the more I noticed how grateful I was for other things in turn. I went from seeing things negatively before to becoming blessings instead.
Now, I am far from perfect. I can’t always see a reason to be grateful for everything, some things are harder than others. But, I do take pride in constantly counting my blessings each day and noticing that in giving thanks and acknowledging them I accrue more reasons to be grateful. Life is significantly impacted by your attitude, if you are a poor sport you will get annoyed easily when you start to lose; if you are a grateful competitor win or lose you’ll be happy you were able to compete. The same goes for anything in life when looked at through the lens of gratitude. Your B+ may be a horrible grade to you but to another student that’s the highest grade they’ve ever earned. The worst meal of your life would fill many bellies elsewhere. Gratitude is an amazing tool, it takes a lot of work to know how to use it properly. Like any tool you need to understand the caveats as well!
Gratitude isn’t the perfect tool for every situation:
I have spent this entire post talking about how amazing gratitude is. Now, it truly is and I stand by that. But!! It’s not a perfect tool for every situation. A hammer is a great tool for many different things, building a house, crafting another tool, or busting up concrete but it’s not the ideal tool for sweeping your floor or operating on a person. Now, that may be a silly example but it’s just a metaphor for the fact that gratitude may not be perfect in ever situation. I’ve used gratitude to get me through some really awful situations, but it wasn’t easy by any means. It’s a wonderful ability to be able to find the good in the bad, such as a a death or a falling out with a friend, but that’s not to say I ever wanted to utilize it in those situations.
Sometimes it wasn’t even possible to see them as anything other than negative, especially in the moments. Even in a mundane situation it’s not always perfect to feel grateful, for example: If you fail a test, you can be grateful you could’ve done worse but you should still allow yourself to be upset, to want to work harder and do better next time. Another example in a wrestling match, having your season end on a loss, it’s never an easy thing to lose, especially when you know it means you have to wait months for the next formal season. You can be grateful for all the success you had but in that moment allow yourself to feel everything, to learn from it and grow. Gratitude is immensely important and should be the lens you see many things through but you should also allow your emotions to have their moment as well. Some of the most mentally tough teammates of mine at Penn State were super emotional in losses, they allowed themselves to feel it, learn from it and to move forward. Those same teammates rarely lost after those types of losses.
How to build and use Gratitude:
I’d be one horrible coach if I went this entire post without actually talking about how to build up your ability to employ gratitude and use it to make your life better overall. When I first got to Penn State my coaches made us write down three things were were grateful for each practice. Eventually they would stop mandating it and have us do it on our own, we had little box in the wrestling room that said “Gratitude”. You write down your three things and put the paper in the box, a way to remind yourself but also in depositing the box you must commit those thoughts to memory. Similar to taking notes for classes, but having to use what you studied for the tests. So here’s the best ways I can tell you to cultivate gratitude;
- Write down three to five things you’re grateful for each day, either in the morning or at night. These can be as simple as you need them to be.
- Take a moment each day and just shut your eyes, breath, and put your hand over your heart, feel your heartbeat and feel the happiness to be here in this moment.
- Say thank you at least three times to someone. Not for an act but simply out of true gratitude for what they do for you. i.e. Thanking a teacher for being a great motivator.
These are three fairly simple lessons I learned from my coaches, and from other mentors and books in how to employ and build up my gratitude muscles. Now, I am far from perfect myself. I don’t do all these things nearly enough but the days I remember to do all three are typically some of my happiest days, I find myself enjoying each little thing all the more. Gratitude is like looking at the stars, the longer you look the more you see. Counting our blessings and giving gratitude out you start to see how good you can have it, how blessed you can be.
You deserve Gratitude, You deserve Happiness!
To wrap this all up nicely, I wanted to finish with this singular thought. A lot of the reasons we are unhappy in life are things that often aren’t nearly as important as we think. So long as we have our health, and everyone we love is okay, we have little reason to be horribly upset. That’s not to say you can’t be upset, just illustrating that we have a lot more to smile about than frown about. But, there is often a very large reason why so many in our country, in the world really, are often unhappy or simply content. We don’t think we deserve happiness and gratitude. As kids, there are many things we do that we think are fun and exciting, and we get yelled at by a well meaning adult to stop. This kills the fun, kills our creative nature. In school as kids if we step out line we are labeled “troublemakers” “disruptive” and deemed those who will be unsuccessful. As adults we are often taught to get a good job, do our duties, and expect to live a good comfortable life. All through out these endeavors we are taught that we don’t deserve greatness, happiness, or fulfillment. Who are we to be happy? When people are happy to do their jobs they are called Workaholics. When a kid is amused by things others don’t find funny, they’re a werido. All of this is backwards and wrong! We DO deserve to be happy, truly happy! We deserve to have reasons to be grateful! If you are reading this on a computer you have electricity and a roof over your head. If you’re reading this on your phone you have a computer more powerful than the one that landed mankind on the Moon IN YOUR HAND! We live in an amazing world, full of wonder and hope. If you see the good, there will be more good, if you allow others to make you see the bad you will only see bad. This world is far from perfect, it is far from wonderful for all people. Billions all over the world don’t have what we have, but I believe each and every human who has a life can find a reason to be happy, to feel grateful. Not because of material things, but because we deserve it, YOU deserve it.
Thank you! If you read this far I am extremely grateful to you that you gave me a chance to teach you something today. If you enjoyed this please consider sharing this with anyone you know who might find value in it. If you are a parent and you think your child can comprehend this, please allow them to read it and apply it. Or if they can’t I encourage you to teach these lessons to them as they were taught to me. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me directly, my cell is 856-341-6271, I am happy to help. Peace and happiness to you all- Coach Pat Higgins.