Some studies say that people who express gratitude are happier in their lives. While this makes sense, I have wondered which came first, expressing gratitude that led to a happier life, or having a happy life that led to expressing gratitude. But I suspect it does not matter much in a practical sense. By deciding to express gratitude for what I really do have in my life–not making believe but the real stuff small or large–I become more conscious the ways my life is working well. That makes me happier.
Of course things I don’t like happen in my life. Two years ago I smashed by big toe not once but twice on the same day. The nail initially turned totally black, but eventually about 2/3 of it grew back. But all was not well. The end of the toe had swollen so the nail started cutting into the flesh. Now I soak it twice daily to ease the swelling. It still hurts when I forget to do so.
I can complain how it hurts, how I have to soak it for 20 minutes when I have other things to do. Or I can move to gratitude. I can recognize that I still have a toe that can feel to hurt. I can focus on what I am missing or what I still do have. Indeed, if I had not smashed the toe, I would rarely be conscious of having the toe.
So gratitude helps develop awareness of the positive in life. Making the effort every day to be aware of how I am ‘blessed’ rather than simply assuming what goes right in my life, affects how I view my life. A critical attitude can be useful in seeing through illusion and confusion, and help us be aware of potentially harmful things. Yet without the balance of also paying attention to and recognizing the things and people that enrich my life, I will see my life as much darker than it is.
We all have problems, challenges and painful things and events. But when we live with a defensive posture, the fear, suffering and struggles become our lives. While we need to address such things, the more we recognize, feel and express gratitude for what does work, inspire and even entertain us, our lives become more joyous and full.
Finally, I do not believe one has to have a religion or even belief in God or such to feel grateful. One can be grateful for something, not necessarily to someone or some agency.
FYI: Following is a link to Wikipedia which gives an overview on gratitude, in different religious traditions and research. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude