Just look at my life! Should I be feeling gratitude, or have I been ripped off? Is the glass half-empty or half-full?I can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or I can be grateful that some thorn bushes have roses.
At the purely intellectual or “scientific” level, these two attitudes are equivalent. But in real life, it makes a huge difference which we choose.
When the image we hold of ourselves in relationship to the world portrays us as a victim, the resulting sense of helplessness is transmitted through the entire system. The physical consequence of this can be failure or breakdown in an organ or organ system.
Whether we feel gratitude and fullness, or loss, deprivation, and resentment, a corresponding internal chemical state is created. This state, in turn, generates characteristic behaviors – health or disease, empowerment/powerlessness, fulfillment/dissatisfaction, success/failure.
In my medical practice (mind/body medicine), the importance of gratitude is strikingly clear in a psychophysiological way – grateful people heal faster; they are able to eliminate harmful behaviors from their lives with greater ease; they are happier.
The way in which we see the world shapes our responses to the challenges life presents us. A sense of gratitude empowers us to choose wisely … how we feel, what we say, what we believe, what we do.
How preposterous for us, who are richer and consume 10 times the resources than 95 percent of the world’s people, who routinely live 25 years longer than our great-grandparents, who bask in personal freedom and potential, to focus on the “half-empty.”
Gratitude leads us to see what is available, what can develop. After all, there is nothing to work with in the empty part of the glass. Without the attitude of gratitude, there results a feeling of deprivation.
Smokers, drinkers, and drug abusers – whose quality of life continuously deteriorates – are unable to enact the apparently simple choices that they say and truly believe they want to make. Such people are in an involuntary state of denial – a denial of the richness that is within them.
Consciousness of the fullness of Self would make their compulsions pale by comparison. Without the sense of who you really are, it is difficult to discern the true worth of anything that takes place in your life except at the immediate and transitory level of instant gratification.
When we feel grateful, we interact with other people from our fullness; they feel appreciated and are attracted by our energy. Resentment, bitterness, and victimhood tends to repel people, and we experience less support from others.
Similarly, when our lack of gratitude leads to helplessness and disease, we feel “ripped off’ that our health is going downhill while others are out enjoying themselves. In the field of psychoneuroimmunology, we are now certain that emotions, beliefs, and interpretations (our map of the world) have a profound effect upon the body’s functioning, including whether we become ill or resist disease.
No matter what the challenges or crises in our life may be, if we feel helpless about them, we are much more likely to become ill. The state of mind that we call gratitude is not inborn, in my opinion, but something we learn.
Gratitude has to do with feeling full, complete, adequate – we have everything we need and deserve; we approach the world with a sense of value. It is the experience of the range of fulfillment that is possible that leads to a capacity for gratitude. Without gratitude, the tendency is to feel incomplete, cheated, deficient – in a word, helpless.
If you were not fortunate enough to have been taught the attitude of gratitude as a child, you may, from time to time, feel yourself slipping into despair, feeling resentful and unblessed. That still happens to me sometimes and, when it does, I simply remember my reasons for doing the things I do, my personal life mission and vision, with gratitude. It may take a little while, but with inner focus and imagery, my attitude always comes around. After all, just like you, “I am what I think.”
Emmett E. Miller