grat·i·tude /ɡradəˌt(y)ood/: noun
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
We hear a lot about “being grateful” around this time of year. What does that really mean? Why is that so important? And why does that word seem to buzz only around the holidays? As I go through life, I’m realizing more and more the depth of the word gratitude and the power it has on my life.
Let me share with you two moments.
I suffer from anxiety and bouts of depression. It is very easy for me to focus on negative emotions and thoughts. In the past, this negativity has consumed me. Paralyzed me. As part of my healing process I’ve become a student of meditation and mindfulness. I’ve sought healers and experts to help guide this process. One particular guided meditation centered on bringing forth my favorite memories- from my earliest to my most recent. Four memories emerged. I relived those moments in my mind. My whole body felt warm. I smiled, laughed and ended the meditation in tears. I was so happy for those moments; so connected to that feeling of gratitude. I felt it in my bones. And I realized what gratitude means. It is hope. Faith. Grace. Resilience.
One month later, I had an “aha!” moment. During a meditation class, the teacher explained that the brain cannot tell the difference between an actual moment in one’s life and the memory of that moment. Therefore if we “relive” a moment in our mind, our body will “relive” it the exact way it did when it first happened. I realized that we have control over our thoughts. We can choose to think about the negative or choose to think about the positive- the moments of gratitude. RELIVING moments of gratitude is what I experienced during that meditation. The warm, positive feeling overwhelmed me in a beautiful way. Why not choose to relive those moments? That’s my intention. More so then making a list, or saying what I am grateful for, I am setting an intention to make a daily practice of “reliving” moments of gratitude. Every day.
I grew up with Friday night family dinner and my father blessing the children. He would always end with “may you be grateful for who you are and what you have.” As a child, I don’t think I fully understood what that meant. I was so grateful when things went well. But it is truly challenging to feel gratitude in difficult times. Sometimes that challenge is overwhelming. Over the years, I’ve realized that gratitude is a muscle that needs to be built. Taking time each day, just a few minutes, to be present and to appreciate, has built my ability to feel gratitude more authentically and even through life’s roller coasters.
Gratitude has taught me many things. Most profoundly, it has taught me how to break down protective walls and provide a space for self-love. Learning to appreciate myself, despite my shortcomings, despite my insecurities, despite my weaknesses, has made me stronger. It has made me confident and powerful. I now have the confidence to love someone in the most vulnerable way. The confidence to admit conflict and work through it. I have the confidence to smile when I wake up after a difficult day, with a renewed hope that this day will be better.
I built that confidence with gratitude. Gratitude for each breath that I take, for my heart-to-heart connections, for the ability to persevere, for every person who has come through my life as family, a friend, a teacher, a healer, a challenge, an inspiration. Gratitude has changed my life. Gratitude keeps me awake.
Here’s a little science lesson on how gratitude affects our brain on a biological level- taken from this article:
You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine. So does gratitude. The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…
One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.
Remembering to look for gratitude in our daily lives IS important. It can be difficult- especially in the midst of tragedy, crisis and an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. Looking for gratitude keeps up present. Keeps us focused. When we focus our energy on being genuinely grateful we begin to shift our perspective. We are awake and aware, we claim our power, we gain the ability to take charge of our life, and we allow others the space to do the same.
“What’s so great about gratitude is that it gets you outside of yourself. You focus on what you have, you focus on blessings, you focus on other people, and that’s ultimately where fulfillment comes from. When you’re grateful you’re not focusing on you. It stops the misery of me. -Mastin Kipp
4 simple tips to create a daily practice of gratitude.
- Begin your day outside. Take 5-10 deep breaths. Notice the calmness of the sky, the quietness of the trees or the buildings. Appreciate this moment before you start your busy day.
- Keep a journal. As you transfer your thoughts to paper, you free yourself. It is a huge responsibility for your mind to hold every thought that runs through your head. Getting your thoughts on paper releases your mind and allows space for calmness and positivity.
- Say Thank You. Thank Friends, Family, and Strangers for the little things they do that make your day better.
- Relive moments of gratitude. At the end of the day, turn of electronics. Maybe take a hot shower or bath, read, light a candle. Before you fall asleep, feel gratitude for something that day. Meditate/reflect and “relive” all moments (big or small) that brought a smile to your face or warmed your heart. If you are in the midst of tumultuous times, find one small part. Feel gratitude for your family and loved ones. And for the opportunity to wake up to a whole new tomorrow
Upon awakening, let the words THANK YOU flow from your lips, for this will remind you to begin your day with gratitude and compassion. -Wayne Dyer
Lots of love and gratitude,
Mary and Marissa