When life’s got you down, grat­i­tude can seem like a chore. Sure, you’ll go through the motions and say the right things — you’ll thank people for help they’ve pro­vided or try to muster a sense of thanks that things aren’t worse. But you might not truly feel grateful in your heart. It can be like saying “I’m happy for you” to someone who just got the job you wanted. The words and the feel­ings often don’t match.

This dis­con­nect is unfor­tu­nate, though. It comes from a some­what mis­guided view that grat­i­tude is all about looking back­ward — back to what has already been. But in reality, that’s not how grat­i­tude truly works. At a psy­cho­log­ical level, grat­i­tude isn’t about pas­sive reflec­tion, it’s about building resilience. It’s not about being thankful for things that have already occurred and, thus, can’t be changed; it’s about ensuring the ben­e­fits of what comes next. It’s about making sure that tomorrow, and the day after, you will have some­thing to be grateful for.

One of the cen­tral find­ings to emerge from psy­cho­log­ical sci­ence over the past decade is that cer­tain emo­tions serve socially adap­tive func­tions. When we expe­ri­ence emo­tions like com­pas­sion, admi­ra­tion, and shame, they drive us to alter our behav­iors toward others. As Adam Smith intu­ited long ago, these innate feel­ings, or moral sen­ti­ments, impel us to act in ways that ben­efit our fellow humans — to engage with them in behav­iors that foster the common good. And in the case of grat­i­tude, the evi­dence couldn’t be clearer. In the face of loss, tragedy, or dis­aster, few psy­cho­log­ical mech­a­nisms can do more to ben­efit an individual’s or a society’s ability to thrive.

Read the article at Huffington Post →