There’s a little song I sing with my daughters. It begins: “A thankful heart is a happy heart. I’m glad for what I have, that’s an easy way to start.” Saying thank you is such a small thing, and yet it can do so much to make life more simple.
When we talk about striving to make life more simple, expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better. In fact, studies have shown that expressing gratitude and thanks is one of the easiest ways to boost mood.
A study by Harvard University showed that “in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
Gratitude is defined as a readiness to show appreciation for what we receive, and to return kindness. Ultimately, gratitude is the ability to recognize something good, and then to really acknowledge that goodness.
All too often, we pass by the good things in our life; rushing from one thing to the next, we can easily forget to see how much we already have.
If we break it down into two steps, the first step would be to open our eyes and see what there is to be thankful for. The second step would be to turn that acknowledgement into an action and say “thank you.”
Sometimes this is silently in our own hearts, and sometimes it’s outwardly communicating thanks to a person. I think, like so many things in life, gratitude is a muscle we need to use over and over again in order to become better at it.
Here are 3 ways gratitude cultivates a simpler, happier life:
1. Gratitude helps to calm the craving for more.
Being thankful for what we already have can be a huge help in trying to calm the urge to accumulate more. This isn’t settling for things, but really training our eyes to see how much we already have. It’s about learning to be content.
My journey to minimalism first began when I realized how much stuff I owned. I saw how many things cluttered my life, how little I actually needed, and how many other people don’t have enough.
Both the realization of what I had, and the thanks that all my needs were provided for caused me to go through everything I owned and give away or donate garbage bags full of stuff. I have enough right now, and buying more stuff won’t bring true happiness.
2. Gratitude helps us to see others.
When we’re not clamoring for more and focusing on what we don’t have, we’re able to think a little bit less about ourselves. A disposition of thankfulness fights against the attitude of being self-centered.
Therefore this practice eventually leads us outside of ourselves. It means we have to connect to something bigger than us: our community, our neighbor, our extended family, our children, and our spouses.
This means that by reaching out to the other, we both step outside of ourselves, and yet at the same time, come to intimately know our own hearts and grow in maturity. It leads us to having more generous hearts.
3. Gratitude helps us live in the present.
Being thankful can help us live in the present in several ways. For example, it can also be applied to life events. I’ve been thinking about how thankfulness can actually help us live in the present rather than be upset about the past, or scared for the future.
For example, when we use a disposition of gratitude to think about the past, we bring up positive memories. When thinking about the future, we can choose to be hopeful and have an optimistic attitude.
Saying thank you for what is right in front of us might help us stay grounded to live in the present with less stuff and more life.
Consumerism pushes us to have more—to have the next great thing that money can buy. Being content and thankful might mean rejecting some of the material things we want in the moment in order to step back a bit and discover what we truly need right now.
And the good news is that once we ask these questions, we will soon discover we need a lot less than we think we do.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey