The mental and physical benefits of gratitude (thankfulness for what one has) have been well-documented. Research has shown that being grateful can improve life satisfaction, sleep, optimism and outlook. It can also decrease physical complaints and trauma. Gratitude makes people more likely to help others.
A current study by Solom and colleagues at Eastern Washington University (2017) addresses the “Thieves of Thankfulness” – the factors that get in the way of practicing gratitude. Most of us simply forget to take the time to appreciate what’s going well in our lives. But these researchers dig a little deeper, examining the traits that inhibit the development of gratitude over time.
Here are their results:
1. Narcissism was found to be one of the strongest inhibitors of gratitude. This makes sense when you consider the key components of gratitude: recognizing the value of what’s been given to you and recognizing the goodness of the giver of the gifts. Narcissists tend to feel superior and entitled, and thus unlikely to appreciate the benefits that others provide them.
2. Cynicism also predicted decreases in gratitude over time. Cynicism causes people to be suspicious of others and their motives. It is difficult to receive and appreciate gifts or compliments from others when there is an assumption that they are inherently selfish.
3. Materialism and envy inhibit the emotion of gratitude. Focusing on one’s material possessions or the possessions of others tends to distract one from the life blessings that do exist.
What does this mean in practical terms?
If we want to enjoy the feeling/outlook of gratitude – the warmth, interconnectedness, and well-being that it offers, then we have to be on the lookout for what undermines it. Not only must we address the narcissism, cynicism, materialism and envy that arises within us (conditioned in part by our cultural environment, no doubt), but we must also cultivate practices that counter these tendencies. We can develop trust instead of cynicism and humility instead of narcissism. We can learn to better appreciate the simple pleasures in our lives that we are gifted with, but often ignore while waiting for “one’s due” or the “jackpot” one’s neighbor received.