Maybe The Only Thing We Really Need is More Gratitude


“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

It is discontent that opens up our heart to many of the unhealthy habits in our lives.

Materialism is, after all, the natural behavior born out of discontent with the possessions that we own. We live in a society that breeds discontent by defining the American Dream as owning bigger homes, nicer cars, and fuller closets. Advertisers foster this sense of dissatisfaction by promising greater happiness with their products. And too often, we foolishly fall into their trap without realizing it.

But there are other unhealthy habits in our lives born out of discontent. For example, dishonesty is born out of discontent with the truth. Greed is born out of discontent with our current supply. Substance abuse is born out of displeasure with the current state of our lives. Even many of the feuds in our families are born out of discontent with our closest relationships.

If discontent is the cause of many of our unhealthy habits, contentment is the cure.

And if contentment is the cure, gratitude is the pathway to it.

Gratitude provides proper understanding of our place in the world. Gratitude is the feeling and expression of thankfulness for the actions of others that are costly to them and beneficial to us. By definition, gratitude requires humility. It requires us to admit we have been the recipient of something we did not deserve. And it calls us to admit there are no entirely self-made men or women.

Gratitude assigns worth to those who rightly deserve it. Whether I am thanking a parent, a spouse, a veteran, a teacher, a policeman, or a mentor who has invested into my life, my response of gratitude to their action gives the praise and worth to those who rightly deserve it.

Gratitude directs attention to what we already have. Gratitude always requires our attention to be focused on the good things we already possess. It calls us to notice our blessings and take greater appreciation of them. As a result, our eyes are turned away from the things that are fostering the discontent in our hearts.

Gratitude improves our overall well-being. Scientific studies over and over again confirm what we already know to be true: Grateful people are happier people. Grateful people routinely report increased well-being, better health, healthier lifestyles, increased optimism, and a more positive outlook on life (source). Additionally, those who display a high level of gratitude are much more likely to have below-average levels of materialism (source).

Gratitude is not a result of our circumstances. I have lived my entire life inside the United States, but have led numerous groups of people to third-world countries. I can attest first-hand that gratitude is not a result of circumstances. I have met grateful people in some of the poorest neighborhoods in our world and I have met grateful people in some of the richest neighborhoods in our country. I have also met ungrateful people in both. Gratitude is a decision and a discipline–not a response.

Gratitude opens the door to contentment. Gratitude helps us better understand our place in the world. It pushes our praise to those who rightly deserve it. It causes us to focus on the good things we already have regardless of our present circumstances. It improves our well-being in almost every regard. As a result, it is the surest pathway to contentment.

And that being the case, maybe more gratitude is the only thing we really need.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    My wife started keeping this gratitude journal thing. She’d write down every day 5 things that she’s grateful for. I think she stopped doing it, but something like that is one way to better remember what we’re grateful for every day. And I bet if you keep training your head to think of 5 things to be grateful for, that eventually it’ll just become what you do all the time!

    • says

      I used to do the same thing – but with my commute. Every day when I would drive to work, instead of feeling annoyed at the time wasted, and the road rage that comes with the bad drivers of Toronto, I started listing everything I was grateful for – my life, parents, siblings, Thenix, yoga, meditation, Toronto, music, festivals, clothes, everything I have, everything I have done, everything that is still to come. It helped make the commute a thing of joy rather than a pain.

  2. says

    More gratitude, more love, more value, and better health, Joshua. Those are the things I seek each day. I agree that gratitude is the pathway to contentment, but it’s not necessarily the gateway to more love, generating more value for everyone around us, or better health.

    However, I’m going to cut my comment short because the spirit of this article was awesome and I don’t want to (even potentially) diminish it. I’ll continue my daily gratitude habits right now – like closing my eyes when taking my first bite of a meal and expressing gratitude for the amazingness that went into bring it to my mouth – and I’ll add one more source of gratitude to the list today.

    That would be gratitude for you and what you’re doing for me and thousands of other people by simply being you.

  3. Stephanie Leah says

    Everyone deserves gratitude for being who they are. Everyone deserves an acknowledgement of their worth. We are all worthy, the very face that we are here is proof.

    • says

      Stephanie, you are so right. Thank you for stating this fact, that is so often ignored. Everyone does need validation and an acknowledgement of their worth. I do think that there is a lot to be learned from these ideas about gratitude. My only problem with the above positive essay was this line, “It requires us to admit we have been the recipient of something we did not deserve.” To me that line suggests that some people deserve and others do not; I’m not sure that anyone truly deserves what they get. I am especially referring to the good fortunes that befall some people and not others.

  4. says

    Such a great post! That is exactly the kind of mindset and energy I am trying to create with my Twitter. I am challenging myself to post something I am grateful for everyday for a year. I am using the hashtag #grateful365 if anyone wants to join in! :D

  5. says

    Gratitude is difficult to practice and I’ll admit that I take many things for granted. There are many things I do to minimize it. Stoicism is a great way that I practice gratitude.

    Yesterday I opened my journal to read through my old pages. It was interesting to see how ambitious I was just three months ago. What really made me smile was the fact that January-Vincent had high goals that I hoped to accomplish even if it took years. Then I look into now and realize that I’d accomplished many of them in a matter of months. Then and there, I felt gratitude for all that I’ve done in such little time.

  6. says

    Great post, couldn’t have come at a better time because over the weekend I decided that this week I would be more conscious of when I feel envious of others and to embrace how much I already have (material and non-material).

    I am taking time each day – once in the morning, once mid-day, and once at night – to journal all the forms of abundance I already have, embracing those things and feeling gratitude for them.

    You hit on a great point about gratitude not being a result of circumstances, as some of the poorest people I’ve met in places like India or Africa are the most grounded and fundamentally happy even though they live hand-to-mouth.

  7. Miss Britt says

    I’m a big believer that gratitude practiced regularly can completely change a life and can absolutely make one happier.

  8. says

    I am so glad I read this post this morning! I have used a gratitude journal on and off for a couple years now. I am also trying to teach our family at dinner or before bedtime to practice gratitude. (With my four year-old we often say “No Attitude Just Gratitude!” and he is able to relate. I have noticed the times I am consistent, there is a mental shift and I am more positive, hopeful, kind. Thank you for sharing this! It inspired me to continue and increase the practice of gratitude!


    Here is a post I wrote on gratitude as I keep working through being more mindful :)(

  9. J.T. says

    I LOVE this post! Well-written, AND thought-provoking (I’m grateful for the post itself)! I’m also grateful for:

    1. My health
    2. My living space — I love having few possessions, and being organized
    3. My new job
    4. A place to live, in and of itself
    5. The fact that I’m alive

    Thank you again, Joshua!



  10. says

    Thank you for this post! And I agree that maybe all we need is more gratitude. Is there a way to teach someone (say, a family member) how to be more content with what they have instead of being materialistic? I find that to be the hardest topic to give advice on. It also makes me a little sad to watch a family member self-destruct all because they want to be so materialistic.

  11. says

    Nailed It! ……Well said Joshua. Contentment seems almost the opposite of our bigger, better deal throw away mentality……but delivers the one thing more stuff can’t…….peace.

  12. Connie Fletcher says

    There’s an old saying…Gratitude is the attitude that determines altitude for life. I try to practice gratitude everyday.

  13. Becky says

    Wonderful post. As someone once said to me, “If you run out of things to thank God for, you aren’t living life to the fullest!” He then went on to say that each day he and his 4-year-old son prayed together starting with thanking God for having 10 fingers that all work and going on from there.

  14. nerdygirl says

    Thank you for this little article. I am a high school teacher who is presently teaching a yoga credit course to a group of teens. I have been trying to get them to understand contentment and gratitude and we have done some exercises to help them grasp this, but your article puts things simply so that they will be able to understand. I’ll be sharing this with them next week. Again…thank you.

  15. says

    It wasn’t always like this for me.
    Since I started practicing gratitude I’m me daily life, everything looks better and nicer. I see me smiles, I encounter more piece and receive more comfort. Living in gratitude start from within. No need to receive anything first. Start by appreciating what you already have. This is enough to get started.

  16. Teresa says

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING AND THANKFUL LIVING TO ALL. For the first time in many years I am where I want to be today, doing what I want to do. Muffins are in the oven for my granddaughter to eat before her parents pick her up to go visit family out of town.

    My husband and daughter are still asleep. Sophia the First is on Disney channel and I have stopped to watch it with Addi. No frantic rush to clean and cook before family gets here. Living and loving in this moment in time.

    Working toward minimalism and loving it!! Thank you Joshua for your FB page and HOWEVER it landed on my page!

  17. Laurie says

    I started the gratitude journal thing, and I’d write one thing a day. I had it all mapped out on a calendar, but then I’d end up getting 5 days behind, and it just got lost in my everyday. This might sound like an ad, but I found and I use it every day. Everyday at 7pm I get an email (which goes to my phone) asking me for what I was grateful for during the day. I only reply with one thing, but I always think of about 5 things and pick the best one. The fact that it emails me and goes “ba-doo” on my phone reminds me that I have to do this thinking and writing.

    You can customize what question you want the site to ask, I just use it for gratitude :)

  18. says

    My husband went through some serious health issues a while back and I began a gratitude jounal. It took a lot of effort at first, especially on his bad days, but it helped me to focus on what was going right so I did not spiral into the depths of his illness. The journal seriously helped me through a bad time. I am no longer actively keeping the journal, but when setbacks occur, I mindfully think of something I am grateful for, and it helps me to refocus on the positive.

  19. says

    I like this post! It reminds me of things I need to continue to work on, as a person trying to walk the journey of life. I’ve been grateful for certain people in my life, but I also find myself not being as content when I’m around certain other people, It is a matter of choice. I’m going to work at staying in the choice of gratefulness.

  20. Kathy says

    “Gratitude is a decision and a discipline–not a response.” This statement says it all. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom. I look forward to your posts every day.

  21. says

    When people live minimally sometimes others look down at them as weak because you don’t own as much. It’s hard to tell people that materials have no value to you. How do you suggest to go about living minimalist when everyone around you doesn’t understand and thinks you’re crazy? and how do you start giving up the materials that you do value, but you know you don’t need in your life to be happy?

  22. Lauren McCormick says

    I recently took a personality test, and the results yielded that I was not motivated, not competitive, and didn’t care how much money I made. (There were upsides too, like that I love being around people.) The results bothered me at first, but then I realized why I scored so low in those areas. I’m content. I don’t need a bigger house, better clothes, to be better than the person next to me. I’m completely happy with where I am. Well, I wish I had a slightly better paying job, but nothing triple digit or anything. I live pretty minimally, but you need a job to help you more than “get by”. Anyway, I just feel happy knowing I’m mostly content :)

  23. Lucinda says

    I would often have my girls list, usually some odd number like 17, things they were grateful or thankful for. We did this at bedtime. Other times they would list attributes of God they were thankful for. They are now teens and we still do it on the rare nights when they don’t fall asleep quickly.
    I appreciate the reminders in this article.

  24. ralf says

    You can create gratitude and contentment.
    I reduced my costs, especially transport and energy costs, but also food. Now the income reaches farther. And there is much less stress. Which in turn leads to more time spent walking.

  25. Shelley says

    “Gratitude is a decision and a discipline.” Best line in the whole blog. Loved the wisdom in your words. Thank you.

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