Can you cultivate an attitude of gratitude?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Our genetic code is like a blueprint for our bodies. Genes passed down from our parents determine our eye and hair colour, many conditions, diseases, behavioural traits and even some talents we possess. But can genetics explain why some of us feel and express gratitude more readily than others?

It turns out that if you're not a naturally grateful person, you just might be able to blame your genes. Some studies indicate that gratitude might be tougher for some of us to feel and express because of the composition and activity in our brain, our unique personalities and ultimately our genetic make-up*. But don't write yourself off as an ungrateful miser just yet, there is a chance that you can learn to be grateful. But how?

I would say that I was a generally grateful person. I recognised the blessings in my life. I appreciated the wonderful things I had and the people who were in my world but I never overflowed with gratitude. I never gushed about it and in all honesty I never felt it really deeply. It was more like a passing thought than a core feeling.

Studies suggest that you can learn how to be more grateful.

But then I undertook the challenge of keeping a gratitude journal for a month. I attached the habit of writing down two things each day that I was grateful for, to the habit of reading which I do without fail every night before I go to sleep. So as I climbed into bed I would grab out my pen and post-it notes which substituted for my standard bookmark -no fancy designer stationery was used in the making of this mindset shift. I'd jot down two things and then move onto my nightly read. It was an easy habit to acquire.

The first few days saw all of the usual responses, family, friends, my home, my dog, the community I live in etc. Nothing earth shattering. But within a few days the notion of needing to have something to write down at the end of the day saw my mind become hyper-aware of the things I was doing and experiencing each day. I think that because I had the thought somewhere near the front of mind "I must come up with two things I'm grateful for today" I became really attuned to what daily wonders I was encountering. The sensation of a hot shower on a cold morning, the lovely gentle ache I got in my muscles after a good work-out, the sight of new buds on my rose bushes, the security I felt walking alone in my neighbourhood at night without fear, the taste and glorious colour of freshly roasted beets, the kindness of a stranger that offered an encouraging word, the closeness of a cuddle from my kids, the expression of excitement in my dog's 'whole-body' wag or the pure joy that came from dancing in my kitchen to my favourite song. These moments were nothing new. They were all things I had experienced before, I had just never really felt grateful for them before.

As the month moved on it was like I had a filter fixed permanently in front of my eyes. I was seeing and feeling ordinary things in a different way and which were starting to give me that core feeling of gratitude and fulfilment which I'd never known was missing. The challenge has now ended but my nightly journalling will go on indefinitely. I feel that I have wondrously changed the way I experience the world on a daily basis and I adore it. My focus is much sharper on what I have, rather than what I have not and it has become somewhat of a spiritual practice to write down what I am thankful for. It is like my external expression of thanks to the world everyday.

The great news? Research suggests that challenges like gratitude journalling , even when not continued long term, can actually alter the structure and amount of activity in the part of our brain that experiences gratitude*. And that, in turn, leads to improved mood, life-satisfaction, well-being and happiness. So yes - we actually can cultivate in ourselves an attitude of gratitude. That my friends, is something which I am deeply grateful for.

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