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Choose An Attitude Of Gratitude ‒ Just A Platitude?

Written by: Jon Gottsegen, Guest Writer


People say just choose to be happy...or grateful...or yadda, yadda (enter your positive emotion here). No doubt how you respond to situations is a choice, but it is not as easy as this advice would make it seem. There is some work, or more accurately some intentionality, involved. It’s a practice. We have to exercise our gratitude muscles to make them responsive and resilient.

Much has been written on gratitude, and there is a body of psychological research into it, so I am just touching the surface here. First, what are we talking about? Brene Brown calls gratitude an “emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.” Robert Emmons, a leader in gratitude research, says it begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It involves the recognition that the good in our lives is a gift. We are not entitled to anything. Robin Wall Kimmerer also talks about recognizing the bounty we receive from the Earth as gifts. We should not take a berry from a plant without acknowledging the plant and Earth who provide it. Imagine how we would treat the Earth if we approached her with gratitude rather than entitlement. Which leads us to…why is gratitude important?

Gratitude has been shown to bring psychological, physiological, social and spiritual benefits. It is also related to a constellation of other positive emotions including joy, self-esteem, motivation, social connection, and generosity or service. I like how Emmons puts it; we become greater participants in our lives rather than spectators, or as Kimmerer says about listening to the Thanksgiving Address of the Onondaga Nation School, you can’t help feeling wealthy. Gratitude promotes a feeling of abundance, which serves as an antidote to the feeling of scarcity, the “hungry ghost” energy, that drives consumerism. It inspires people to return service, to pay it back…and forward.

Most faith traditions esteem gratitude as a highly important value. In my tradition of birth, Judaism, we are instructed that our first words in the morning should be ones of gratitude. Saying a blessing before a meal or when seeing a sight that inspires wonder, or even when going to the bathroom, is an expression of gratitude, gratitude for the chain of being that created the natural materials and even for the supply chain that brought food to our table.

So, gratitude is good for the soul. It is good for the Earth. It is good for society, and it is good for our well-being, now what? Jewish tradition says we should say 100 blessings a day. Can we just choose an attitude of gratitude? It is a simple concept but not easy to do, especially with the constant messages we receive from media and other distractions in the world today. There are many gratitude journals for sale that suggest taking time each day writing down the things for which one is grateful. This is effective, and writing is more concrete than just thinking about these things, but Emmons cautions against taking on another obligation that feels like a burden. There are many useful suggestions out there about “doing” gratitude. Here are some pointers from my perspective about cultivating the attitude.

First, gratitude should not be rote or a throw-away. Take a moment, breathe, and let yourself feel what you are grateful for. Breathe it into your kishkes, Yiddish for your guts or belly. But what if you are just not feeling it?

Second, see if you can find one thing. Maybe your coffee is nice and hot this morning. Think of all that had to happen for that to come about. Let yourself feel some wonder for the way the Juncos (or choose your bird) seem to flock to the bird feeder or the crows converse. Perhaps you can invoke a memory of a time or event that was impactful or particularly enjoyable.

Third, if you don’t write gratitude in a journal, a close relative is saying your gratitude out loud. You get to hear it, which involves different processing centers in the brain and also brings it alive. It may even surprise you. If you are spiritually inclined, the Universe gets to hear it too.

Fourth, you can use technology. The day can get away from us, with its obligations and responsibilities. I have set reminders on my phone to stop and express gratitude. Sometimes it feels forced, but it develops an awareness and then a habit. The important part here is stopping what I am doing to take the moment (see the first point). I may also get up from my desk to move a little bit, look out the window, and change my perspective.

Fifth, be gentle with yourself. We’re all human. That is, we are imperfect, and, frankly, wounded. Sometimes we forget, sometimes we are just not in the mood or life events are overwhelming us. Just acknowledge that and allow yourself the opportunity to act with gratitude in the future. Even remembering that you forgot is a step in the right direction.

Sixth, enjoy it! From a spiritual perspective, practices that enhance our connection to ourselves, the world, and the Divine enhance our joy, and, according to Psalms, should be done in joy. See if you can put a little smile on your face when you express gratitude.

Last, allow some gratitude for yourself. You can even be grateful for remembering to be grateful! This helps you feel good about it and reinforces the habit.

Eventually we want to turn gratitude from a temporary emotion or state to a trait. If it is a trait, you are more inclined to feeling states of gratitude which also reinforce the trait, so it is a virtuous cycle. Of course, this takes a little time and attention. Happy gratitude-ing, and in line with this article, Thank you for reading!

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Jon Gottsegen, Brainz Magazine Guest Writer

Jon Gottsegen is a Spiritual Director and Nature Connection/Forest Bathing Guide. He loves accompanying people as they explore the depths of their souls and their connections to Spirit and pointing out the places of Mystery and discernment in this process. You can see more about his work at and



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