In a previous blog post I talked about how fostering a sense of contentment is a good foundation for developing and maintaining happiness. Another key component in happiness, especially long-term happiness, is gratitude. Thinking of reasons to be grateful and fostering the feeling of gratitude can shift your outlook on your day/life/situation. Purposely focusing on things that you appreciate makes it much more difficult to feel bitter or negative about your life in general.
Gratitude will not numb you to the negative experiences in your life nor will it magically change your prescription eyewear a soft red color. Gratitude helps you put things in perspective. Specifically, it helps prevent your view of your situation from becoming overly negative. We have a tendency to see our situations in reference to the predominate emotional evaluation we experience. In other words, if our day seems more than 50% negative, we experience our entire day as negative. Likewise, if our day seems more than 50% positive, we have a better chance of experiencing our day as positive. Since everyday has both positive and negative aspects, it all depends on what you focus on. A day with one significant negative event can taint the entire day if that negative event is the focus on our attention.
For example, if a multi-color painting represents a day in our life (such as this one), we can see the full array of colors if we notice all areas of the painting. However, if we were to stand very close to the painting, or zoom in, and focus our entire field of vision on only one small percentage of the painting, then the painting could look entirely blue. Stepping back and changing our perspective can help us to see that the painting (and our day) has a variety of colors. Where you choose to spend your time focusing will determine how you feel about your day and how you respond within your day. Gratitude helps us to step back and gain a wider perspective on our situations, allowing us to see the possibilities for positive events in the midst of a multi-colored day.
Shawn Healy, PhD