The next time that you feel depressed, angry, envious, unhappy, or are simply having a bad day, try a little experiment by forcing yourself to take stock in those things in life for which you are grateful. You’ll find that if you are in a true state of gratitude, you can’t experience negative emotions at the same time.

This begs the question – what is true gratitude?  A true state of gratitude is proactive. Many confuse reactive gratitude with proactive gratitude.

Reactive gratitude is passive. It occurs when someone does something good for you. It is therefore passive in the sense that you are not the one acting to create the feeling. You respond in a gracious or polite way. You may say “thank you” or write a note to show your appreciation.

I’ve heard people tell me that they have nothing to be grateful for. They may feel this way because recently no one has done anything noteworthy for them.  “My kids didn’t send me so much as a birthday card,” or “my boss didn’t recognize my achievement at work,” all demonstrate a feeling that the speaker considers gratitude to be something that the world is supposed to create for him or her.

Those people who wait for reactive gratitude continually feel that they exist on the short end of life. While it would be nice if we all received kudos, compliments and favors, the world doesn’t tend to work that way.

Proactive gratitude, on the other hand, is a feeling that we create for ourselves. We originate the feeling within our own mind. This happens when we appreciate the value of something. So gratitude and appreciation are intertwined. The word “appreciate” has several meanings in the dictionary. The first meaning is to have increased value. We are all familiar with how investments in stocks appreciate, or that real estate can appreciate in value.

When you feel an appreciation for someone, you feel that they have an increase in value to you.  You feel gratitude that this person is a part of your life. It takes no action on their part, the feeling of appreciation starts from within your own mind.

The funny thing about feeling appreciation for someone is that not only do you increase that person’s significance and value in your own mind, but by expressing your appreciation and gratitude to that person, you are also likely to increase the value that they feel about themselves and that they feel about you. So this proactive gratitude has a multiplier effect.

A second definition for appreciate is to fully understand.  You’ve probably said to someone in the past that you “appreciate her situation.”  This acknowledges that you have listened to her and feel that you fully understand whatever it is that she speaks of.  Proactive gratitude may therefore involve fully understanding a situation and being grateful for it. This can include setbacks.  Instead of allowing a problem to destroy your day, you could be grateful that it is an experience that you may learn from and improve upon.

Consider, for example, a problem with a co-worker.  Your mind might focus on all of the things that he does to thwart your progress or otherwise annoy you. Armed with all of these destructive emotions, you decide to meet with this co-worker to hash out your differences.

If you do so without first establishing your own mindset of gratitude, you probably won’t find much success. You’ve dug a deep hole from which it will be difficult for either party to escape.

Rather, try this exercise: Start by writing down five things that you appreciate about your co-worker. The appreciation exercise may include things that you know about him – that you fully understand what he may be going through at this moment – that may explain the behavior that leads to the problems. This might be difficult to accomplish at first, since you may be initially filled with negative emotions.

But if you can separate out the person’s good qualities from the behaviors that you find toxic, then you’re on the right path. By de-personalizing the issues, you are making them about the behavior and not about the person. By transforming your thinking, you are much more likely to find success.

Having a mindset that includes proactive gratitude can be powerful. It means that in any situation in life you can start a value creation and understanding process that increases the value of everything around you.  And like your muscles when working out, the more that you practice proactive gratitude, the faster and better you will become in appreciating your blessings in life – and the happier and more content you will be.

© 2018 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.

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