Gratitude is a dynamic tool of transformation. The 14th century German mystic and philosopher Meister Eckhart stated, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice”.
The gratitude grid
Gratitude has infinite power. In common practice, we understand gratitude to mean acknowledgement of another’s favour or kind gesture to us. Gratitude is also a spiritual practice. It is a means to boost positivism, a malady to trouble, an antidote to illness and a way to attract abundance and joy. As Roman philosopher Cicero stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others”.
Gratitude signifies thankfulness for what is, making one appreciate the moment and become receptive to the beauty of life. It is the recognition of the kindness in others and the gifts of the Universe. It is movement from negativity into light and love. Gratitude has benefits that can change our lives totally and dramatically with incredible results of laughter, contentment and good health.
Gratitude is an expression of joy. “Gratitude creates happiness because it makes us feel full, complete; it is the realisation that we have everything we need, at least in this moment,” says author Mary J Ryan in her book Attitudes of gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Everyday of Your Life. It is to cultivate this feeling of lasting happiness that the adage ‘count your blessings’ was created.
We can do this by mentally acknowledging all that we’re grateful for or by writing a gratitude journal as Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance propagates. In a gratitude journal, list five or more things you are grateful for every day. This is a powerful and transformative exercise that does create joy and smiles.
For a more lasting happiness, a more lasting sense of gratitude is needed. So, we should go beyond being thankful for gifts of the material kind and also be grateful for the gift of life, for the beauty of breath, for the wonders of nature, for the loving care and support of family and friends.
Rising optimism and energy
Gratitude is a state of joy and empowering energy; the heart is happy and the soul is soaring with optimism.
Professor Robert Emmons of University of California writes of the scientific evidence of the power of gratitude in the book Measuring the Immeasurable: The Scientific Case for Spirituality. He states, “Persons who were randomly assigned to keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about their upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.” Young adults reported higher levels of positive states of alertness, determination and enthusiasm, compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison.
Entering into the state of appreciation does seem like a fun and beneficial activity that creates positivity and energy. Now, who wouldn’t want that?
Appreciation creates joy, yet how does it solve problems, issues and difficulty? When in trouble, we can choose to move away from complaining and grumbling. Focus on what is right in the moment and not all that has gone wrong. “There’s always something to be grateful for. Always. It’s a matter for choosing to see it,” says Joe Vitale of The Secret fame. Be grateful for the job and take your focus off that difficult colleague or your demanding boss. Be grateful for a healthy body and take your mind off the knee that is actually only slightly hurting.
To take this thought further, sages and wise men ask us to be “grateful even for what has gone wrong”. It does sound incredulous, but there is something wonderful in this idea. Difficulty is meant to teach us something; be it patience, kindness, organisation or clarity. Hence, by being thankful for the difficult situation, we turn our attitudes into one of openness and begin to seek real solutions. The spirit of thankfulness then changes pessimism into optimism. “Of the most incredible truths about gratification is that it is impossible to feel both positive emotion of thankfulness and a negative emotion such as anger or fear at the same time,” says M J Ryan in her book Attitudes of Gratitude. She adds, “As we focus on what we are thankful for, fear, anger and bitterness simply melt away, seemingly without effort.”
She explains that by noticing what is right in our lives, the brain naturally works to track success. The spirit of gratefulness then takes us from fear, nervousness to joy and success.
A happy and healthy heart
Gratitude makes the heart soar, literally! Thankfulness, and appreciation makes one instantly enter the state of joy and happiness. Interestingly, this is true not just of the emotional heart, but also the physical one. Scientific research supports this.
At the HeartMath Institute in California, subjects were made to focus on their physical heart and feel appreciation for someone. Researchers found that the heart patterns of those who did this exercise of appreciation were different from those that were made to feel anger as well as relaxation. Robert A Emmons, Professor of psychology at the University of California, who conducted similar experiments explains, “Appreciation increases parasympathetic activity and also produces entrainment or coherence across various autonomic measures [heart rate, variability, and pulse transit time and respiration rate], a pattern that is associated with improved cardiovascular health.”
Loved by all
Everyone loves a happy person. When the spirit of appreciation and gratitude is deeply entrenched in us, we begin to see the wonder and beauty of life and become positive, happy souls. Complaints, grumbling, hassles, irritations, anxiety are forgone easily. Grateful people don’t tend to indulge in their sadness but move back into positivity very quickly. Automatically they tend to emanate this positivity and everyone around is attracted to this innate quality of joy that they seem to radiate. “Grateful people are rated by others as more helpful, more outgoing, more optimistic and more trustworthy,” explains Professor Emmons.
A simple shift
The simple attitude of gratitude, the spirit of appreciation, the kindness of gratefulness does seem to have manifold benefits. Almost seeming like a remedy for all trouble, and a measure to create happiness, health and optimism. All that we need to do then is change our perspective to see the loveliness of life around us and be deeply thankful for everything. Once this internal shift is made, the external world will begin to seem like an incredible place full of joy and wonder. It begins with being happy with the present moment and leads to a lasting state of joy.
As Lao Tzu says,
“Be content with what you have,
Rejoice in the way things are,
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
The whole world belongs to you”.
The beauty of graciousness will attract the beauty of life. An eternal state of gratitude will lead to a wonderful, happy you.
This was first published in the July 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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