- 30 Oct
November Theme: Gratitude
Gratitude: Counting Your Blessings is good for your Mind & Body
By Sharyn Galindo
What is life but an angle of vision. Emerson
Why practice gratitude? Aren’t thank you’s just an everyday part of life? We say thank you at trips to the store, at family dinners, in business deals and on a host of other small and large occasions. But gratitude is more than a simple thank you and more than just an emotion. It’s also a value, a virtue and for many of us a practice we choose to cultivate. In fact, according to scientists people who practice gratitude consistently report a variety of benefits, including:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
- Higher levels of positive emotions;
- More joy, optimism, and happiness;
- Acting with more generosity and compassion;
- Feeling less lonely and isolated.
Sounds good huh? In fact, it’s often said if you have no other spiritual practice or religious practice but have a gratitude practice it’s enough! So what is Gratitude? It is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge and focus on the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of themselves. It is a clear acknowledgment of that which has been done. But even more, it is the deep knowing of it or better yet the wise reflection of it. This brings with it a sense of kindness and understanding. Gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. According to David Steindl-Rast, in his book, “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer”, he states:
“The interdependence of gratefulness is truly mutual. The receiver of the gift depends on the giver. Obviously so. But the circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver: a receiver of thanks. When we give thanks, we give something greater than the gift we received, whatever it was. The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”
When people do nice things for others unexpectedly, that produces gratitude and increases the likelihood that people will do something “in kind.”
Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis professor, backs up his claim with eight years of intensive research on gratitude in his best selling book, “Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.” He states:
“We all begin life dependent on others, and most of us end life dependent on others. If we are lucky, in between we have roughly 60 years or so of unacknowledged dependency. The human condition is such that throughout life, not just at the beginning and end, we are profoundly dependent on other people. …
Gratitude is the truest approach to life. We did not create or fashion ourselves. We did not birth ourselves. Life is about giving, receiving, and repaying. We are receptive beings, dependent on the help of others, on their gifts and their kindness.”
Humans are born, survive off the generosity of others, and then die. Thus, gratitude naturally is and should be the organizing principle of life.
Count your Blessings
Neuroscience has confirmed that meditation actually changes the brain, especially the pre-frontal cortex and areas responsible for compassion and generosity. This is what opens us up or closes us off. If you bring to mind someone you know that is a “happy” person, don’t they have a natural sense of gratitude and generosity? When we humans tighten up, or have fear or are stressed, the primitive part of our brain takes over and we have this sense of “other.” We feel disconnected and alone. With a gratitude practice we train the brain just like in any mindfulness practice. We intend to notice– to take in the good. We make friends with what’s here in this moment by remembering what we love (I love my kids, chocolate, a rainy day, my cats, a snowstorm..) Paying attention to what you’re grateful for can switch the channel of negative thinking and help you appreciate what is here in your life right now. To deepen the effect, though, it’s important to let yourself fully experience gratitude when it’s here and take time to savor the moment, particularly in the body.
Ways to cultivate gratitude
- Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you note
- Better yet..Thank someone face to face or even mentally. No time to talk or write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write down each day the gifts you’ve received.
- Recap at meals the highlights of the day
- If you regularly pray, use it as a method to cultivate gratitude.
- Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. In meditation, we acknowledge the good right now, even the challenges. Our happiness is then not dependent on conditions being a certain way. Instead, we cultivate a sense gratitude in the midst of whatever is happening in life.
Albert Einstein said that there are those that live life as if everything is a miracle and those that live life as if nothing is a miracle. Gratitude is a way to appreciate what you have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make you happier, or thinking you can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material and emotional need is met. Gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. So I like to go with Kurt Vonnegut who said, ”If things are going sweetly, please pause for a moment, if this isn’t nice than what is?”
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