Cultivating Gratitude - A Practice
“Abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend... when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” — Sarah Ban Breathnach
For many of us, gratitude often appears to be something that we have, not something we need to actively practice.
Practicing gratitude can have a profound effect on the quality of your day and your health. It enriches your whole life. In fact, there is a new generation of researchers out there who are examining the health effects of gratitude. Some of the findings are really amazing and here's just a taste of what practicing gratitude can do for our bodies, minds, hearts and overall wellbeing.
The Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude program, a collaboration between UC Davis and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, which studies the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being published research that shows, "when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic (calming-branch) of the autonomic nervous system is triggered.” This is the part of the nervous system that kicks in our Rest and Digest response. Keep in mind that when the other branch - fight and flight - is activated, our body's digestion and elimination systems are stunted.
When observed daily, thankfulness is linked to many physiological and psychological benefits. Scientifically speaking, regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent. Keeping a gratitude journal for as little as three weeks can result in better sleep and more energy. Research has also shown that frequently practicing gratitude improves overall health and immunity. It lowers depression and anxiety and stimulates kinder behavior towards others (and ourselves)! It has also been shown to correspond to one's own happiness and long-term satisfaction with life.
Of course, this is important all year round, but as we gather for the holidays, this research can be particularly useful in returning us to our gratitude practice. While joyful, the holidays can be a time of stress on our bodies, minds, hearts, and energy. We can get overwhelmed by the speed and commercialism of the season. Extra-heavy meals and gatherings can set the stage for family drama and allow old habits to arise. It's also a time of year when we yearn for quieter more warm or intimate connections. Practicing gratitude can be medicinal for those harder days when we are not feeling so grateful. It can help us learn to open our hearts, even when we have the impulse to do the opposite.... leaving us feeling grateful when we least expect it.
Consider this inspirational share from Roshi John Daido Loori. He has said that expressing gratitude is just as transformative as expressing complaint.
“Imagine an experiment involving two people. One spends ten minutes each morning and evening expressing gratitude. The other spends the same amount of time practicing complaining. One subject is saying things like, ‘I hate my job. I can’t stand this apartment. Why can’t I make enough money? My spouse doesn’t get along with me. That dog next door never stops barking and I just can’t stand this neighborhood.’ The other is saying things like, ‘I’m grateful for the opportunity to work; there are so many people these days who can’t even find a job. I’m grateful for my health. What a gorgeous day; I like this fall breeze.’ They do this experiment for a year. It is guaranteed that at the end of that year the person practicing complaining will have deeply reaffirmed all his negative ‘stuff’ rather than having let it go, while the one practicing gratitude will become a grateful person.”
We can choose to deliberately spend some part of our day focusing on those things for which we are grateful. When we do, we spend much less time stewing over what we don't have or what did not happen. As eastern philosophy teaches, you attract into your life that which you spend significant time thinking about.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits... it becomes your destiny.” Lao Tzu
If you don’t already have a designated time that you say Thanks, try picking a time easy for consistency. Try it upon waking or sleeping, before your morning coffee or any meal, or before or after your journey to work. I practice it after each yoga session, I take a moment to bring to mind whatever I have gratitude for at that moment. It is the perfect time to practice. Try it next time you sit quietly at the end of your practice. Bring to mind anything you are grateful for (big or small), then send out your appreciation in return.
Or start a daily Gratitude Journal NOW. I like to pre-label 40 pages and commit to writing every day for 40 days. Once a day I write at least one sentence on what I am thankful for at that moment. I like to include things that are simple and often overlooked, like my lavender soap, sandalwood oil, or a walk in the park with my dog.
Another practice I do often is Gratitude Texting with a Buddy. I always do this with my dear friend Nicole. Often it happens organically or we make a pact for a month or so. Upon waking or before bed we share a quick message of what we have gratitude for that day. Truthfully, this is my number one favorite way to practice gratitude because it gives me even more to cherish - my gratitude and hers.
Join Jillian Pransky on her upcoming retreat in Costa Rica and discover deep renewal in paradise!