We've all heard about the many benefits of gratitude for our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, including its ability to ease our path through times of grief and pain.
The real power in gratitude comes from truly feeling gratitude—not just the mental exercise of noting those things for which we "should" feel gratitude.
Of course, that mental exercise can lead to the feeling of gratitude, but sometimes it's just not enough. Sometimes we are feeling too exhausted, frustrated, discouraged, or heartbroken for any amount of thinking about the good things in our lives to lead us toward a true experience of gratitude.
But even in those moments, not all hope is lost! It's still possible to find our way into feeling gratitude by relying on its fundamentally contagious nature.
Gratitude is contagious
When someone expresses genuine gratitude to us, we naturally begin to experience a similar feeling of gratitude. It's more contagious than the common cold.
This very trait gives us an easy way to shift our emotions on those days when the feeling of gratitude seems just too far our of our reach.
I attended a Walk the Talk event last night, a TED talk inspired spiritual talk series focused on gratitude. Each speaker had so much to share about gratitude as a means for creating a positive shift in our selves and our world, but one story in particular stuck with me.
Karen Golden, one of the speakers, had just moved from Indianapolis to Sedona at Christmas time last year. So she found herself alone in her new home, surrounded by unpacked boxes, and separated from family and friends on Christmas Day.
A sure-fire recipe for a day that could make self-pity easier to feel than gratitude!
What she did instead was dress up in a Santa Claus outfit, climb to the top of one of Sedona's popular mountains with a stash of Santa hats, and offer hikers the chance to have their picture taken with Santa.
People were delighted! During the couple of hours she spent there, she had her picture taken with children, families, couples, and pets—all wearing her extra Santa hats.
Their gratitude for her unexpected (and fun!) gesture overflowed to make her feel gratitude as well and made for a joyful holiday for all.
Not all of us have the opportunity or personality to make such a grand gesture, but this same idea can be applied in smaller ways wherever we are.
Holding the door open for someone, offering a helping hand, or giving someone a sincere compliment are all small ways to improve someone else's day and create gratitude in them that buoys us up too.
Such small kindnesses have much larger benefits to ourselves and others than seem possible for the amount of energy we must expend to do them.
We have the opportunity to brighten someone else's world and shift our own emotional state at the same time any time we need it.
That shift is just one small gesture of kindness away at any time. How cool is that?
Part of what makes gratitude contagious is seeing and hearing gratitude take root in another person. This is as true for others and it is for you.
That means that taking the time to express your gratitude to others for the little things they do for you has the same contagious effect of sparking an increased feeling of gratitude in them, which in turn increases your own still further.
Taking the time to express your gratitude is another relatively easy way to shift your world and the other person's with great returns for a small effort.
Putting it into action
I challenge you to put this into action today to see for yourself just how contagious this is and how easily you can shift your mood and that of those around you (no matter how lousy your day has been up to that point).
Keep your eye out for opportunities to spark gratitude in the people you encounter today. What small (or large) gestures can you make to brighten another person's day? Do them! And notice how their gratitude for your kindnesses makes you feel.
Pay attention to the kindnesses that others offer you today and make sure you offer an expression of gratitude to them for those kindnesses. Notice the impact of your expression of gratitude on them. How does your expression of gratitude of kindness and their reaction to it affect you?
Gratitude is a powerful force for good in our world. I hope you'll use its contagious nature to spread that goodness in for your self and the world around you on a regular basis.
You just might find that it's as addictive as it is contagious!
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