WHAT IS GRATITUDE
Gratitude has been conceptualized as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill and an attitude. It is all of these and more. At its most basic level, it is an emotional response to receiving a gift or being the recipient of an altruistic act. And it is so much more.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. According to dictionary.com, gratitude is the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.
Gratitude is appreciation for receiving something, both tangible and intangible. It facilitates people to acknowledge the good in their lives. In that recognition, many see that the source of that good lies, at least partially, outside of themselves, helping them to see a bigger picture that everything in life brings something to be grateful for, including other people, animals, nature, a higher power, and even challenging situations. Being in a state of deep appreciation can help people experience more uplifting emotions, honor their life's experiences, improve the ability to deal with adversity, improve relationships and improve health.
THE EFFECTS OF GRATITUDE
In many ancient natural medicines and spiritual traditions, including Acupuncture and Qi Gong, it has been known that the body, mind and spirit are one. Therefore, to truly be healthy one needs to have all three aspects in balance. Gratitude works on all three levels.
Many studies have been and are being done on how gratitude affects the psyche.
The findings show that regularly expressing gratitude can improve overall sense of well-being. In these studies, people who focus their mind on gratitude tend to be more optimistic, open, kind, and courteous. They also tend to suffer less from depression, anxiety, envy, greed and addiction. The conclusions of many of the studies report that the majority of people with gratitude practices enjoy increased levels of happiness and a greater satisfaction with their lives.
Current studies are showing it often indirectly improves self-esteem. When the participants focus on cultivating gratitude for EVERYTHING that occurs in their lives, the “good” and the “bad,”, they often stop comparing themselves to others. Their thoughts and perceptions in the present moment can reshape their beliefs about themselves. A wonderful side effect is that with improved self-esteem, people will often reach out and connect with family and friends, decreasing loneliness.
A daily gratitude practice can strengthen interpersonal relationships. Not only does the gratitude overflow to the people in their lives, but grateful people tend to be more forgiving and less narcissistic.
Another wonderful “side-effect” of a daily gratitude practice is improved self-control. Being grateful can improve courage and willpower to make healthier choices, emotionally and physically, and decrease addictive behaviors.
Feeling, truly feeling, gratitude for someone or something creates fundamental changes in the brain. Neuroscience shows that the brain’s neural circuits are created by repeatedly thinking thoughts and feeling feelings. Whatever one focuses on regularly, creates the pattern for the brain to be ready, willing and able to discover similar things.
Therefore the more gratitude is practiced, the more those neural circuits are strengthened for gratitude. This makes it easier for one to keep on focusing on gratitude.
Feeling gratitude increases dopamine and serotonin production and release. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates emotion and movement, plays a vital role in pleasure, motivation, and attention. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that stabilizes the mood and allows the body to be relaxed. Increasing these creates joyful feelings that motivate specific behaviors to be repeated. Gratitude has also been shown to stimulate greater activity in the parts of the brains linked to learning, decision making, altruism and the rewards system.
The activity of the mind, including thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, is constantly influencing the body’s physiology. Researchers have found that being in a state of appreciation often decreases inflammation, increases cardiovascular health, and improves mental and emotional flexibility. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has led many experiments with results such as improved sleep, clearer skin, reduced headaches, less stomach pain, and reduced congestion.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to assist in blocking toxic emotions, such as feeling stressed out, resentment, regret, guilt and shame. This allows the body to decrease the production of cortisol and to balance the blood pressure. Many people also experience improved sleep quality, quantity and duration.
One study had participants with heart failure do a daily gratitude journal. After eight weeks the majority of them experienced reduced inflammation in the heart and the whole body, improved sleep, and better moods.
HOW GRATITUDE CAN HELP YOU THROUGH THE HARD TIMES
It’s easy to feel grateful when life is good. But when it feels like life is falling apart, gratitude is worth the effort. When one is experiencing disaster, gratitude has the power to energize the body and mind, allowing one to not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances; when feeling broken, it has the innate ability to heal; when one is in the throes of despair, it brings hope. In other words, gratitude can help cope with hard times.
Being grateful in challenging times doesn’t mean one should buck up, force oneself to be happy, or not honor whatever feeling is rising up, be it fear, anger, grief, worry. It means being grateful for the things one does have; being open to an opportunity for change and growth; and not letting oneself get stuck in an emotional loop of obsession about what is occurring. Life will always have its share of disappointments, frustrations, losses, hurts, setbacks and sadness. Feeling the feeling that comes up is natural and healthy. Allowing yourself to be grateful to the circumstances as a challenge, a lesson, and a wake-up call allows for growth, expansion and being at peace.
A great exercise is to think of the one of the worst times in your life: sorrow, loss, sadness. And, then, remember that here you are, able to remember them, that you made it through, and it brought you to where you are today. Acknowledging how far you've come is a great example of something to be grateful for.
WAYS TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE AND APPLY IT TO YOUR LIFE
Make it a habit to appreciate everything – even the seemingly routine things in your life, like the fact that you have access to the internet, you’re able to walk, a warm bed to sleep in….
Count how many things you can find to be grateful for in each room of your home, your office, your storage shed.
Count all the functions of your physical body you can be grateful for.
Before you go to sleep, think of and/or write out the positive things that happened during the day. What gifts did you receive that day? As you do this, think/feel the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Upon waking, consider 3-10 things that you are grateful for.
Write a thank-you note, expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of someone’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Do this at least one a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself. Don’t have time to write? Thank someone mentally.
Meditate. There are guided meditations all over the internet. Or, focus on the present moment without judgement. Focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
Cherish your experiences. For the pleasurable ones, take a moment, close your eyes and feel the joy and beauty. For the challenging, know that every obstacle is an opportunity. Allow yourself to nurture gratitude for all your experiences. It will lead you to a more peaceful and content life.
From www.carlamarietoth.com Apr 20, 2021