When we are conscious of our character development and spiritual growth, we become happier, healthier, and more effective in our contributions.
One of the great benefits of a gratitude practice is the ability to track how the four universal portals of gratitude appear in our lives. When we do this, we find that the benefits of gratitude practice are multidimensional. Four quadrants of life experience, that human beings experience cross-culturally, are health and well-being; work environments and communities; financial stability; and relationships. Two other areas of human experience — character development and spiritual growth — are influenced by, and in turn influence, all four quadrants. As a result, gratitude practice in the Four Quadrants of Life also benefits our personal evolution.
Benefits for Health and Well-Being
Our physical state is fertile ground for the four portals to gratitude. We may be thankful that we have learned how to nourish our bodies; that we are protected from once-serious diseases, now eradicated from our modern world; that we have been nursed through an illness with kindness and compassion and that, emerging from this suffering, we are once again blessed with health and well-being.
Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami and Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis are among researchers investigating the effects of gratitude practice. Their studies have shown that regularly and deliberately expressing appreciation and genuine thankfulness improves health and well-being. Study participants who kept gratitude journals and practiced self-guided exercises slept better, exercised more, experienced increased positive emotions, progressed toward personal goals more quickly, and helped others more often. In Words for Gratitude, Dr. Emmons and Joanna Hill write, “We have learned from research that grateful people elicit more support from others.They cope better, have better health, and are more socially adaptable. This strong data supports grateful behavior. The key is learning how to make it a part of our experience.”
Benefits for Work Environments and Communities
Work is what we have come here to do, our contribution to the world: our purpose, our calling. As Kahlil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” For some people — technology workers, for example — work may involve maintaining and sustaining the systems that lend efficiency to our modern lives. These are the people whose work keeps the world connected and informed. For artists, work means nurturing creativity and inspiration and generating original images, songs, or other objects of beauty. For still others, work is entwined with service; health care professionals and social workers engage in work in this way. We may fit into more than one of these categories simultaneously — doing technical work by day and volunteer work in the evening, for example — or we may fit neatly into one category early in our work life and switch to another at midlife.
While our focus may change, one thing does not: the four portals to the experience of gratitude are active within all realms of work. Blessings, learnings, mercies, and protections continually occur in some form or another in all aspects of our working lives.
Both positive and negative emotions have the capacity to affect those around us, often creating a contagious effect. Like many positive emotions such as joy, contentment, inspiration, curiosity, and love, gratitude appears to have the capacity to transform individuals, organizations, and communities for the better. According to Barbara Fredrickson in Emmons and McCullough’s book, The Psychology of Gratitude:
It is important to note that positive emotions propagate in groups and communities not simply because smiles are contagious (i.e., through facial mimicry), but because emotions stem from — and create — meaningful interpersonal encounters. When people act on their experiences of gratitude, for instance, they create meaningful situations for others. This socioemotional cycle centered on gratitude could continue indefinitely. In this manner, positive emotions tend to beget subsequent positive emotions. Accordingly, the broaden-and-build-theory predicts that positive emotions not only produce individuals who function at higher levels, but also produce organizations and communities that function at higher levels.
Existing research already shows that organizations with employees who experience frequent positive emotions have lower employee turnover, more customer loyalty, higher net sales, and in turn, more profitable financial outcomes.
People respond positively to gratitude, and this response directly impacts both people’s generosity and their relationship to abundance.
Benefits for Financial Well-Being
In the financial dimension of our lives, we first strive to be solvent and secure enough to attend to our families. As our finances strengthen, we may widen our circle of support to include extended family or people in need within our communities. The financial quadrant is about our experience of solvency and abundance.
A blessing may come in the form of an unexpected bonus, something we can easily be thankful for. We may come to understand the reason that a certain part of our business is not succeeding — a learning that offers within it the opportunity to shift course and welcome new possibilities such as a different way of doing business. Or we may receive a gift of funds at a time of great need: a manifestation of compassion and mercy. We may seek protection in the very literal form of homeowner’s insurance or another kind of insurance policy. When we focus our attention on all of the ways we are supported by our financial life, we find many opportunities to be grateful for what we have.
We know that consistent, meaningful expressions of gratitude by leaders, managers, mentors, and supervisors have the effect of increasing productivity, enhancing creativity, and encouraging cooperation. In environments where workers’ value is openly expressed, there is a positive impact on the financial bottom line.
People respond positively to gratitude, and this response directly impacts both people’s generosity and their relationship to abundance. A survey conducted in 1976 by Carey, Clicque, Leighton, and Milton in the Journal of Marketing, found that customers of a jewelry store who were called and thanked for coming to the store showed a subsequent 70 percent increase in purchases. In comparison, customers who were called and thanked and told about an upcoming sale showed a 30 percent increase in purchases, and customers who were not called at all did not show any increase. A later study in 1995 by Rind and Bordia found that restaurant patrons gave larger tips when their servers wrote “thank you” on their checks. Gratitude, generosity, and abundance are often braided together within human nature, and when expressed externally produce increase for all.
Benefits for Relationships
Relationships, too, are vessels for the four portals to gratitude. We may receive the blessing of a loving life-partnership; lessons about communicating with greater compassion and integrity; the mercy of a close friend offering kindness; and the protection of a parent. All relationships offer such potential for the experience of gratitude.
The longest relationship we have is with ourselves. Therefore, an important component of our life’s experience is to befriend ourselves as we are. Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” To befriend ourselves, it is necessary to extend appreciation to ourselves, to at least the same degree we offer it to others.”
Emmons and McCullough’s research reinforces that gratitude is developed and shaped within interpersonal relationships and social interactions. Gratitude functions in the chain of reciprocity — the give-and-take factor in relationships — which does not incur indebtedness. Put another way, in relationships, gratitude and generosity are intertwined. The capacity to be grateful and generous develops in the context of family and social relationships, and gratitude plays a crucial role in establishing and maintaining all such relations. By mutual giving, people become tied to each other by a web of feelings of gratitude.
Benefits for Character Development and Spiritual Growth
Character development is about the values we hold and the roles we assume as we move through our lives. We move toward development when we are in touch with our authentic voice, our authentic self, and when we are living with integrity and honesty. When we hold opposing qualities within our nature in responsible and balanced ways, we develop personal character and increase our relationship skills. For example, if we can stay in a committed relationship without becoming excessively dependent and remain free without being irresponsible or negligent, we stretch our capacity for developing character; we become more effective in all four aspects of life. As James Hillman wrote in his book The Force of Character, “Character begins to govern life’s decisions ever more pertinently, and permanently. Values come under more scrutiny, and qualities such as decency and gratitude become more precious than accuracy and efficiency.”
Spirituality gives meaning to life, and spiritual growth is about discovering meaning. Spirituality is often expressed in religious terms, but it is the experience of recognizing states of grace, the transcendent, synchronicity, and that which is sacred or holy; it can be found in nature, silence, art, music, family, and friendship. It can bring wholeness to the emotional, physical, and intellectual dimensions of life. The spirit, or life force, within us is the essence or center point of mystery and meaning that is present at the core of our essential nature. It is the force that allows us to integrate our internal and external experiences. The essence of spirituality provides a sense of intactness and wholeness in our nature. When we are in touch with this central core, we experience self-trust and unshakeable faith. Connecting to this core brings us into alignment with what has heart and meaning, and conveys what remains mysterious and transcendent for us all. It is that which makes us unique.
When we are conscious of our character development and spiritual growth, we begin to shift to looking at what is working in our lives and in our own nature. We become happier, healthier, and more effective in our contributions. We begin to look for the goodness in ourselves and others, demonstrating more compassion and generosity.
More Articles in This Series:
Part 1: What Is Gratitude?
Part 2: Four Universal Portals to Gratitude: Blessings, Learnings, Mercies, and Protections
Part 4: Obstacles to Gratitude
The above excerpt is posted with the author’s kind permission.
In Grateful Memory of Angeles Arrien
Photo by Susanna Marsiglia
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