How do you be thankful for people who have done the wrong thing by you? How do you find something good about them, when all you see is the bad? What do you do when negative thoughts about that person and situation, continually fill your brain to capacity, making it almost impossible to think any positive thoughts at all? Why should you make any effort to change these negative thoughts and redirect that (valuable) mental energy toward being grateful for that same person?
Research is littered with the positive physical and mental health outcomes of people who are grateful and thankful and who practice a lifestyle of positivity (Howells, 2012). There is also a lot of research surrounding the negative impact of unforgiveness, resentment, anger and anxiety on physical and mental health of individuals (Howells, 2012; Staicu & Cutov, 2010; Worthington, Witvliet, Pietrini and Miller, 2007). In fact, the correlation between anger and negative health outcomes, has been known for centuries (Staicu & Cutov, 2010). In the religion of Buddhism, anger is named, along with greed and foolishness, as the “Three Poisons of the Mind” (Staicu & Cutov, 2010).
What do these poisons do to the body? Many believe they make us sick. You don’t have to look too far in google scholar to see studies showing the links between negative emotions and illness and disease. For example, studies show unforgiveness can contribute to gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and stress-related illness (Worthington et. al., 2007). Anger can contribute to heart disease and eating disorders (Staicu & Cutov, 2010). And who suffers when you remain in bondage to unforgiveness, resentment, anger or ungratefulness? Only the person holding on. If I hang on to ungrateful thoughts, which can spring from anger or resentments or many other places, I risk my mental health being negatively affected as well as sickness in my body.
If negative emotions are harmful long term (I’m discussing the long term “hanging onto stuff, being consistently angry/resentful/ungrateful/bitter), then I’m guessing it’s in our best interest to be proactive in turning that sad ship around! My thoughts are that gratitude is not only a powerful antithesis against the ‘poisons’ of potentially damaging emotions, but it can also be the key to altering our views of the people and situations which require our gratefulness, instead of our resentment, anger or the grudge we are holding onto.
So, this week, I’ve decided to take some important steps toward gratefulness. I want to drown my negative thoughts about this situation and the people involved, with whispers of “thank you” and in finding what I am grateful for in that person and that situation (Howells, 2012).
Because, we can talk about being grateful, but it is my belief that until it seems impossible to feel and act out of gratitude toward an impossible situation or person, then our ‘gratitude muscles’ have not really been properly exercised. Sometimes, just maybe it’s not until we really don’t want to be grateful for someone or something, that the true miracle and gift of reciprocal gratitude can truly be given.
I realise it is entirely unrealistic to believe we will always walk in complete peace, forgiveness and gratefulness every day that we walk this earth. However, having tasted the effects of ungratefulness against the refreshing balm of a grateful heart, I do believe I know which one I would prefer.
Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in Education: A Radical View, Sense Publishers.
Staicu, M. L. and Cutov, M. (2010). Anger and health risk behaviours, Journal of Medicine and Life, 3(4): 372-375.
Worthington, E., Witvliet, C. V. O., Pietrini, P. & Miller, A. (2007). Forgiveness, Health, and Well-Being: A Review of Evidence for Emotional Versus Decisional Forgiveness, Dispositional Forgivingness, and Reduced Unforgiveness, Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 30, 291-302.