Gratitude: Why it’s important and how to practice it

Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Have you said “thank you” today? If so, then you’ve expressed gratitude! Gratitude is a positive emotion that makes you feel grateful for something or someone in your life. This contagious yet selfless act of appreciation has a rippling effect on one’s emotional well-being, outlook, engagement, and belonging. If each of us plants seeds of gratitude among the Mason community, it can help sprout branches of optimism and thankfulness that can have a far-reaching impact.

The Mason Chooses Kindness initiative encourages Patriots to focus on kind words and compassionate actions. This initiative defines kindness as intentionally engaging in positive action that is friendly, caring, and kind-hearted, going hand-in-hand with gratitude. Mason Chooses Kindness aims to “create and sustain an infectious kindness revolution at Mason” that can easily be transmitted by projecting kind thoughts and actions toward one another.

“Gratitude is a powerful emotion. When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude, research has shown that we experience a myriad of benefits. Gratitude can be an antidote to feelings of stress, discomfort, and dissatisfaction,” said Melissa Schreibstein, director of well-being programs for George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being.Experiencing more gratitude allows us to appreciate our lives as they are, and often, to appreciate the people in our lives. As [leadership and positive psychology expert] Tal Ben Shahar stated, ‘When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.’”

Gratitude can help reshape your perspective.

Philip Wilkerson, industry advisor at Mason’s University Career Services. Wilkerson said gratitude has also helped him increase his resilience. “When I have a lens of gratitude, I have a positive lens on what is going on around. I look for what is going well in life rather than what is going wrong. It does not diminish adversity or challenges, but it makes me appreciate everything,” said Wilkerson. 

Often we can take life for granted and forget how much we have to be grateful for. Pam Shepherd, communications director for the Office of the Provost, said that we see what we don't have and our want and greed intensify, and as we struggle, we neglect to notice all the good we do have in our lives.

“I have learned that when I am frustrated with my life, verbalizing the gifts and joys I do have—health, family, friends, a home, pets, talents, etc.—helps me see how much I have to be grateful for,” Shepherd said. “It's like a darkness is lifted when I change my attitude and acknowledge just how bountiful my life truly is. I'm constantly surprised at how happy I am and how much more willing I am to help others... all because I changed my perspective.”

A good way to keep gratitude alive is to practice and promote it daily. By appreciating the little things in life, you realize how easy it is to feel grateful for the people and world around you.

“When people ask me what my hobby is, I tell them that I love writing thank you notes. I don’t write them out of obligation, duty, or tradition, but out of genuine gratitude,” said Sherrene DeLong, well-being program coordinator at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. “Pausing my life to thank someone for their kindness not only helps me be more centered and aware of the blessings in my life, but it also strengthens my relationships with those loved ones.”

Wilkerson noted that he uses a Five-Minute Journal to help him stay grateful. “Through the journal I am prompted to share three things I am grateful for. Over the years, it has help me be happier and focus on what is going well rather than what is going wrong,” he said.