Let us strive to begin & end each day with a grateful heart. For, the practice of cultivating gratitude is so important to us physically, mentally, emotionally, & spiritually. Now, every faith, in some way, speaks of gratitude & giving thanks. But, in today’s society gratitude is gaining a lot of attention from the fields of psychology & science. In fact, many studies are showing that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude and that by doing so we actually increase our well-being & happiness.
So, what is gratitude?
Gratitude is the expressing of appreciation for what one has – as opposed to today’s consumer mentality, which focuses on what one wants. Gratitude is taking nothing for granted, and being truly thankful for even the smallest of things. Therefore, we can also say that gratitude is counting our blessings, appreciating the simplest pleasures that life has to offer, and acknowledging thankfully all that we have received.
And what the cultivation of a spirit or attitude of gratitude does is shift our focus from what we lack to the abundance that we already have.
Now on a physical, emotional, and mental level science & psychology are finally beginning to understand why religion & philosophy have always valued its importance. For, their research is showing just what a grateful disposition does. In fact, new findings are showing a direct relationship between gratitude, happiness, & health.
Recent psychological studies have shown that daily expressions of gratitude result in higher levels of alertness, increased enthusiasm, increased empathy, better quality of sleep, and lower levels of depression & stress.
Studies have also shown that those who cultivated a grateful spirit were found to place less importance on material goods, were less envious, and more likely to share what they had with others.
While behavioral studies have shown that those who give thanks on a regular basis are more resilient, happier, and had much stronger relationships.
Psychologists, Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University & Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis, conducted a gratitude experiment in which they split several hundred people up into 3 Groups. All 3 Groups were asked to keep diaries. However, the 1st Group kept a diary of what occurred during the day without being told to write about anything good or bad. The 2nd Group was told to record any unpleasant experiences that happened during the day. The 3rd Group was instructed to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful. The results showed that the daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher enthusiasm, optimism towards life, and those in Group 3 made greater progress towards their personal goals.
Dr. Emmons, who’s been studying gratitude for 10 years, says that practicing gratitude can increase our levels of happiness by as much as 25%. This is significant because Dr. Emmons says that just as our body has a preferred or particular weight that it feels most comfortable with – there seems to be a set point for happiness, as well.
Now if something bad or unpleasant happens to us, our happiness will drop, but then it will return to the “happiness set-point”. In the same manner, if something good or pleasant happens our happiness will rise, but then it returns again to this “set-point”. What gratitude practice does is raise the set-point so that we can remain at a higher level of happiness.
This happens because there is a complex relationship between our thoughts, moods, brain chemistry, and endocrine function. But, rather than bore you with an in-depth discussion of anatomy & physiology; I’ll just summarize it by saying what you probably already know:
Thoughts actually trigger physiological changes in our body.
These changes affect our physical, emotional, & mental health. Therefore, what you think affects how you feel. And positive thoughts, like gratitude, increase our over-all sense of well-being, as well as, physical health (through the boosting our immune system.)
Minister, Norman Vincent Peale, and his book “The Power Of Positive Thinking” was the forerunner to this idea & philosophy (even though in his day his ideas were not accepted by health experts).
Now, all of this is wonderful for our body & mind, but let’s move our discussion to the effect gratitude has on us spiritually. For, the ability to live in gratitude is an important part of our spiritual journey because gratitude is truly being thankful from the heart. In fact, true gratitude only comes from the heart. Gratitude expressed in words or just with the lips is only superficial.
But genuine gratitude opens, expands, and purifies our hearts. And as the gratitude fills and expands any perspective of limitation, lack, or fear is transformed into a perspective of abundance & love. It’s the purification through love which helps us to get more in touch with our soul. And when we are in touch with our soul, we feel more connected to everything in the universe.
So, right now, for just a moment, I’d like you to consider all the things in your life that you are grateful for:
Think of your family – your parents, your children, your grandchildren; think of your friends; think of your home – your material comforts; think of your health – your body, and mind.
Now take a deep breath & be grateful for the air which is filling your lungs and making your life possible.
What a complete miracle it is to be alive right now!
Do you feel the love & compassion that your gratitude has just filled your heart with?
The more you fill yourself with love & compassion, and the deeper your appreciation for what you have, the more you begin to see with the eyes of the soul, and the more your life begins to flow in harmony with the universe.
Also, as you begin to cultivate gratitude & thankfulness within your heart, positive energy begins to flow out from you. This energy initiates responses or reactions from others, as well as, God & the Universe. For, when we are truly grateful for what someone has done, that person feels the energy of our thanks. They begin to feel joy within and this joy prompts them to help & give of themselves even more. In the same manner, when we send out thanks to God & the Universe, the universe responds by bringing us, even more blessings. Therefore – The Key To Abundance is Gratitude
In fact, holistic-health advocate, spiritual teacher, and author Deepak Chopra says:
“Gratitude is is door to the power, wisdom & creativity of the Universe.”
However, don’t think that gratitude should only be expressed for the good that comes into our lives; or should just be expressed to get more of what we want. In addition to all the good we should be grateful for all the challenges & difficulties, as well. For, without these things we wouldn’t grow & learn. Therefore, even though it might be very hard to see – every challenging situation & every difficult person – is a gift!
Our human experience, the reason why our souls are here on this earth, is to learn certain lessons. Without the difficulties & obstacles, most of these lessons wouldn’t be learned. Therefore, our task is to keep our eyes open & appreciate what we are being taught. Find the good within everything!
So, what can we do to cultivate a grateful heart?
One very helpful exercise is to keep a GRATITUDE JOURNAL. Gratitude journals can take many forms. Some examples are:
- We can write about 1 thing we are grateful for each day.
- We can write a list of things we are grateful for each day.
- Follow the advice of 17th-century philosopher Spinoza who said every day for a month we should answer 3 questions: 1. Who or What inspired me today? 2. What brought me happiness today? & 3. What brought me peace today?
The challenge is to not be repeating the same things we are grateful for. This will begin to make us look more deeply and find even the littlest thing that we may have previously taken for granted.
Research has shown that those people who keep journals feel better about themselves and their lives.
Another thing we can do is a GRATITUDE MEDITATION. Every day for 20 minutes just meditate on everything in your life that you are grateful for. Call to mind people, things, etc… and as you picture these things give thanks for them. Focus your mind on your blessings. For, by offering gratitude & thanksgiving for what we have we are inviting the universe to give us even more. For, the law of the universe (law of Attraction) states that whatever you think or dwell upon you will draw into your life.
The point of all these exercises is to call to mind what you are truly blessed with. For we all have so much to be grateful for. Now to say we feel grateful is not to say that everything is going great in our lives. It just means we are aware of our blessings. And though we might not always get what we want, we should call to mind that there are people who don’t have & might never have what we do have right now.
So, I end as I began, telling you to – begin & end each day with a grateful heart. In everything give thanks. Look for opportunities to share gratitude with others; not only for what they do but also for who they are. Also, be appreciative! Be joyful! And look for every opportunity to count your blessings!
But, as you cultivate gratitude for what you have, do not forget the giver of those gifts! God, our Father/Mother/Creator, has given us all so much; including the very gift of life itself. And every day that we wake up is only due to the gift of His love & grace. Life is such a precious & beautiful thing – yet how frequently we forget to tell God “Thank You” for it.
And so, I’ll leave you with words of Meister Eckhart, who said:
“If the only prayer you ever said was “Thank You”, that would suffice.”
May your days always be filled with an abundance of love, happiness, and peace!
God bless you all on your journey!
And remember to always – Heed the Spirit, ~ Anthony