The concept of gratitude is no longer new, it's been around for quite some time already. And, now that you've been practising gratitude yourself for a while, you may think you know a thing or two about it. However, is everything you know about gratitude fact or have you, and I'm not ammuned to this either, fallen into the trap of believing some of the many myths surrounding this beautiful practice?
Let's take a little time to explore (and debunk) some of the most common myths surrounding gratitude.
Myth 1: Gratitude is just another form of positive thinking
Many people think that gratitude is all about sunshine and unicorns, a form of positive thinking where nice happy thoughts and positive expectations are all that's needed and all that's focused on. In so believing this, it means that gratitude ignores negativity, it excludes pain, and it fails to consider suffering.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
Research performed by the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons, who has dedicated more than a decade to the study of gratitude has provided evidence that shows that gratitude is much more than this. According to Emmons, gratitude is, "a specific way of thinking about receiving a benefit and giving credit to others beside oneself for that benefit".
Think about that for a moment.
Not only are you thinking about and focusing on the benefit you receive, you're also crediting others for the benefit you have received. And that's not always easy. Because if you're also giving others' credit, you're acknowledging that you depend on others. And that's not always something that people consider positive, it's not something you would consider in relation to positive thinking.
People like to see themselves as independent, capable of standing on their own two feet, providing for themselves. When you give credit to others it means you have to place yourself in a position of receiving both generosity and support. And, no doubt, you, like most others, are a much better giver than you are receiver. Receiving can and often is such a challenging experience for us. And yet it is also humbling.
It is humbling to accept that your survival is dependent on others. It is humbling to accept that our lives are more interwoven and co-dependent than we wish to believe.
Another emotion that gratitude can bring up when you discover that it is also about receiving from others, is the feeling of indebtedness, of owing something in return. Again, this isn't always something considered in line with positive thinking as indebtedness can carry with a heavy energy or can, indeed, be seen as something negative.
So gratitude isn't just a form of positive thinking which tends to focus only on the positive, denying and ignoring everything else. Because it does not ignore feelings and emotions such as dependency and indebtedness, the need to be connected and to care for something that you have received from another, it is wrong to confine gratitude to something as naive and basic as simple positive thinking.
As Emmons explains, "When people are grateful, they aren’t necessarily free of negative emotions—we don’t find that they necessarily have less anxiety or less tension or less unhappiness. Practicing gratitude magnifies positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings." If gratitude was merely another form of positive thinking you'd be devoid of all negative thoughts and feelings, and this is simply just not the case.
Myth 2: You have to be grateful all the time
This leads on from Myth #1. This myth states that you have to be positive at all times. When it comes to gratitude only positivity and high positive vibes are accepted.
Again, this simply isn't the case.
Gratitude is only one emotion on the emotional frequency scale, a scale which also includes other positive emotions such as happiness but also more negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, grief, sadness... to name but a few.
Sure, gratitude is one of the highest vibrating emotions we can experience. However, to only be open to experience gratitude leaves you closed to all other emotions. And, honestly, that's just not humanly possible or practical.
The thing is emotions are emotions. You can't control them and you can't deny them. You simpy experience them. So if someone says something that hurts you, experience the emotion that courses through your body. Be with it in the present moment. And then let it go, release it.
After you've experienced and released the emotion, then you can look to see what you can find from that experience to be grateful for. However, when you are feeling the feel, you don't want to try to deny it.
It's healthy to experience all emotions on the scale. Indeed, it's impossible not to. What's not healthy is to hold onto and dwell on negative emotions or to pretend that such emotions don't exist.
Also, without emotions at the lower end of the scale you have nothing to compare and contrast to the beautiful and high vibration of gratitude. We live in a world where there is both light and dark. The darkness helps us to appreciate the light when it shines in our lives.
Myth 3: Gratitude isn't possible (or appropriate) in times of suffering
When life is flowing, when abundance and ease is everywhere, it's easy to express gratitude. But what happens in times of suffering, either our own personal suffering or suffering we're witnessing in others or in the world?
There are people who argue that gratitude in times of suffering is both impossible and inappropriate. However, if we can't find gratefulness is the most challenging of times, how are we going to make it through those times? If we can't raise our energetic vibration when it's being pulled down by suffering, how can we pull ourselves out of and away from the low and heavy vibration of hurt and suffering?
The advantage of seeking gratitude in times of suffering is that it encourages us and helps us to see the bigger picture, it helps motivate us to tackle and overcome the challenges bringing the suffering.
There was a study performed by Philip Watkins, of the Department of Psychology in Eastern Washington University, and published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, where in study participants were invited to recall a memory of a time when they were hurt, a memory that they still carried with them and hadn't yet been closed or resolved.
Each participant was given one of three possible writing assignments.
It was found that those participants who were invited to focus on and write about the positive aspects of the hurtful situation and how, looking back, they could now feel grateful for the experience, felt they could achieve greater closure and experienced less unpleasant emotions as a result of approaching the memory from a grateful standpoint. In their writing assignment, these participants weren't told to deny or ignore the negative aspects of their memory. However, they appeared to become more resilient when faced with recalling their unresolved and hurtful memory.
Myth 4: Gratitude can be Silent
It's believed by many that expressing your gratitude in your head, and not verbally out loud, is sufficient.
However, take your mind back to myth #1 where we talked about gratitude not only being something that benefits you, that it's also about giving credit to others beside oneself for that benefit.
You can't give credit to another if you do not verbalise your gratitude.
For example, say your colleague sees you standing in the rain waiting for the bus home and stops to offer you a lift. You're benefitting from their kindness, something to be grateful for. However, without them you would remain in the rain, getting wet. So in order to fully express gratitude it's important that you acknowledge the part they played, that you give them credit. And when you give someone credit, you can't do so by expressing gratitude silently in your head. They'll never hear it.
Gratitude as we've already learned is not a one-person party. It involves more than you. And, therefore, the other people involved in the act for which you are grateful, need to hear your gratitude so they can feel appreciated, so they feel credited.
It's also important for us to hear our own voice verbalise our gratitude because verbal communication helps us to define reality and to create our reality. And just as verablly acknoslegding your gratitude to another and they, in turn, feeling appreciated, the same goes for you when you verbalise your gratitude.
Myth 5: Gratitude Leads to Complacency
It is commonly believed that gratitude brings with it complacency because if you're grateful for everything in your life and around you, you won't be motivated to challenge the status quo; you simply accept things as they are.
Studies have actually shown the opposite to be true.
Not only does gratitude not lead to complacency, it actually creates a sense of purpose and a desire to do and be more.
One such study in which participants where invited to to list 6 personal goals they wished to work on over a 10-week period, found that those participants who kept a gratitude journal and each week recorded 5 things for which they were grateful, they made a greater effort in achieving their goals than those who didn't keep such a journal and, indeed, made 20% more effort towards their goals than the oher participants.
The thing about complacency is that it leads to inaction. When we are complacent we become defeated. This is the very opposite of the effect of gratitude on us. When we practice gratitude our desire to feel more fulfilled actually grows. And, so, when we experience gratitude we feel motivated to take more action, not less.
Myth 6: Gratitude Needs a Reason
Many people think that you need a reason, an event, an occasion for which to express gratitude. And, in line with this, that reason, event or occasion needs to be big, needs to be important, like a job promotion or a new job, like a loved on recovering from an illness, like the birth of a baby.
However, if this is your thinking you're missing out on literally hundreds (if not thousands) of reasons to express gratitude every single day.
No matter where you look, no matter what happens, there's always something to be grateful for.
The mistake is that most people believe that that something needs to be big, needs to be unexpected or unusual. And when you think like that you forget to express gratitude for the small things, for the ordinary things, for the many little things that you take for granted.
Gratitude doesn't need a reason, it is the reason. If you're not expressing gratitude regularly throughout your day, for the smallest things you enjoya nd experience, then consciously change your outlook and find ways to express gratitude for the little things until it becomes an unconscious habit.
Myth 7: Gratitude is Just the Latest Woo-Woo Fad
When we can't physically see things, we tend to often discount them or write them off. And because gratitude has been closely linked to people who follow a spiritual practice, it's often referred to as some crazy, fluffy, woo-woo fad that doesn't have substance and doesn't work.
However, there have been countless scientific studies performed on many aspects of gratitude; so many in fact that to say that gratitude is just something fluffy, something that doesn't work, something too woo-woo for you, simply doesn't make sense.
If you've ever discounted gratitude as the latest woo-woo fad (or something similar), look inward and ask yourself why you've done so? Is it because you're afraid that you won't reap the benefits of gratitude that everyone talks about? Is it because you've heard and believed some of the other myths listed above and you're not going to take the chance of proving them to be true? What's the reason? Because there's always a reason.
Scientists have devoted time and money into studying gratitude and they've come up with a list of positive benefits attained through practising gratitude. Science has proven the worth of gratitude in our lives. And if science can prove it, it can't be just fluff and hokus pokus.