Why Humans Struggle To Be Grateful

Energy goes where focus flows, so how can we most effectively use our energy and focus to build a greater propensity for gratitude? 

“Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.”
~Oprah Winfrey

Despite the wisdom of Oprah’s words, it’s not always easy to be grateful, when the negatives happening in our lives weigh us down. We can still resist even while knowing there’s proven science that gratitude literally makes humans happier according to one Harvard Health Publishing article in (2021) . If you’ve ever felt reluctant to practice gratitude in deference to complaining or venting, you’re not alone. It’s a natural human tendency to want to jump into the stream of negative emotions, and get caught up in the energy of it. If we don’t recover with a sense of gratitude to punctuate a venting spat, we’ll be using our energy to attract that which we don’t want, instead of utilizing our energy to multiply our good. Why can it be so hard to be grateful? practice, especially during this holiday season? You might be surprised to learn that your  genes are involved. (What are some things we can do to amp up our gratitude)

The Science of Thankfulness

We all have times when we just prefer to vent and complain, but at least one unexpected factor is connected to research showing that the practice of gratitude is governed at least in part by our genes. Yes, a resistance to lean into a gratitude practice can come from our genetic makeup. According to one recent study, by Jinting Liu, one gene that appears to influence gratitude is called “COMT”. It’s “involved in the recycling of dopamine in the brain” (2017). People with one version of this gene experienced less gratitude than those with another version of the gene. The former was also a marker for those who showed a negativity bias towards faces. 

In another experiment by Sara Algoe (2014) a study narrowed down a gene variant responsible for the level of thankfulness couples expressed to each other. Participants were instructed to express gratitude at least once a day for a two week period. At the end of the two weeks results showed that participants with one variant of gene “CD38” thanked their partners only 45% of the days over the course of two weeks, while the participants with another variant thanked their partners 70% of the days. So it turns out that our habits and our psychology are connected to our genes.

These studies don’t predict how those with certain genes will respond. They also do not allow for how the role of personal attitudes such as envy or materialism and the like, factor in. Nevertheless, they do allow us to understand ourselves differently. While it might be surprising, we can use this knowledge to practice patience with ourselves because with the use of energy and focus, research is showing that we can change our mental disposition and our physiology. Energy goes where focus flows so how can we most effectively use our energy and focus to build a greater propensity for gratitude? 

Cultivate Your Gratitude

Gratitude lists and gratitude journaling are common activities used to enhance our sense of well-being as well as to enhance manifestations, by means of helping us to intend positive outcomes. In one experiment researchers found that the positive effect of the practice of gratitude journaling lasted not just into the next month after it ended but as much as 12 weeks afterwards and all participants had increased brain activity in the part of the brain involved in predicting the outcomes of actions (Harvard Health 2021). This indicates the lasting changes in brain function and structure, which writing out your expressions of gratitude can have. 

Energetically, writing them by hand (ideally in cursive writing) moves energy from the brain and heart, onto the page, which steps down the finer frequencies of thought energy into a more dense and material form. If you are willing to amp up your gratitude practice, there are a few hacks you can use to amp up the impact, as I’ve discovered the through the years.

My Gratitude Journey

Daily journaling on the things I was thankful for helped me immensely when I was going through a divorce and a huge life overhaul. I had no idea what was coming next, I had very little idea about what it was I was going to do, except stay on my path of meditation and energy healing, so I added gratitude journaling to my practice. Years later I was sifting through boxes of old journals and keepsake boxes and I found lists of all the things I had originally written down in the dark days of my relationship ending. Many of them came to pass. Having been raised in LA and at the time living in Oxnard, I had never entertained the notion that I’d be able to live in Santa Barbara, but on my list from long ago was, “I’m so thankful I live in Santa Barbara”. At the time I wrote that it seemed like a dream, but we had always talked about moving to SB and I hadn’t wanted to give up that dream even though he had. When it happened I had more reason to be thankful, but I also knew that it was my amped up energy from my gratitude practice that had opened up the opportunities for me to have that experience. Using your gratitude journaling to call in your intentions is highly effective. 

Another hack can be used with relationships. Being thankful for a relationship when you’re experiencing conflict can be the hardest thing to do especially if we feel we’ve been wronged or feel hurt or angry. The love of my life, I dated in cycles. We dated with 2 or 3 break-ups over 15 years. In one of my journal entries I had written, “I’m so thankful Jeff is finding his way in the world so his heart can heal and he can feel free. Thank you so much for healing Jeff so he can let himself be comfortable in commitment to me, if that is his preference.” That expression had been locked up in a box with some other memorabilia of that time and I had stashed it away during a move. It was long forgotten about until years later. We’d reconnected and things were going well. It made sense to move in together this time. I was unpacking after moving in and I came across the box. I had totally forgotten about my gratitude list or what all was even in it. But when I opened the top, all folded up and intact was my list. 

Love Finds a Way

It made me think about how energy, held with love and focus, finds a way to express itself into the material world, when we are not busy nay-saying or dissing or judging ourselves or our intentions. So even if you are someone who’s genes might make it harder for you to practice gratitude, making a deliberate practice of writing down what you’re thankful for in the present moment and in future, can help you to use your energy in a more powerful and effective way. Plus it can have lasting positive changes on your brain. 

Holiday time or “holy day” time is the perfect time to start your practice, by marking it with the gathering of your supplies and committing to a time everyday that you take for yourself. Remember to engage your heart chakra by focusing on the feeling as you write and you’ll find that your days will become infused with serendipity and divine intervention as you keep up your practice. If you want to make a game of it as I did, write a list and put it on your altar in a box and then forget about it. See what the energy over time brings you and you can make it your personal gratitude experiment. If you want more hacks or tips on how to make your gratitude list more powerful you can always reach me in the online portal on Saturdays. 

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