Cultivating gratitude goes beyond simple posturing on social media.
Photography by Peter McBride

By Sharon Cardel

It can be the embodiment and expression of the conscious soul, or an empty sentiment mistakenly used to express some higher self-identity on social media. #grateful—it is a social media darling. But is the hashtag for gratitude vastly overused or is it a vehicle for a higher vibration?

By definition, gratitude is simply an appreciation for what one has, not what one wants or thinks they need. That swell of warmth and positivity you feel in your heart is an emotion that happens to you. While that is gratitude, there is much more to it. This emotion is one you can choose anytime, anywhere. It is actually a virtue that you can cultivate and a skill set that can be developed.

I must admit that seeing others posting #grateful made me feel equally dismissive and inadequate. My inner cynic wrote off those posts as meager attempts at boasting and poser posturing. But my inner child wondered what those people knew that I did not. What secret had they discovered, what fountain of happiness?

Prosociality is a term associated with the benefits of a mindset of gratitude. From an evolutionary standpoint, feelings of gratitude help foster reciprocal good deeds. This is beneficial for the whole of humankind. When a person has general feelings of gratitude toward life, they are most likely to have a willingness to give back, thereby contributing to the betterment of families, communities and societies.

Gratitude can also affect individual relationships. Close personal relationships are made even closer and stronger with the regularly showing and accepting of sincere thanks. Working relationships can benefit much the same way. Studies have shown that acknowledgement of a job well done boosts productivity in all sectors.

Other benefits of gratitude are for the individual. A grateful person is better able to cope with stress, recovers more quickly from illness, and has stronger immune function.

Cultivating gratitude is a simple process that requires a simple first step: By paying attention to the good all around you, you start the process. Awareness of all the things, big and small, in your life and around you that inspire a feeling of appreciation is essential. The next steps can vary from person to person. Taking the deliberate action of sitting with those positive observations and making conscious notes of them may be all one person needs. Another may prefer to keep a gratitude journal or write letters of gratitude to express themselves to others.

Mindfulness techniques like meditation and breath awareness can also help cultivate the skills for achieving this virtue. Simply expressing feelings of gratitude to others brings people closer together. Giving back creates a circle of good deeds and gratitude that grows over time. The one requirement is that these feelings be genuine and true. False platitudes do no good. So dig deep and find it within.