The Benefits of Gratitude

Increasingly research into gratitude has highlighted the benefits of being grateful and expressing that feeling through thought, writing or action.

Neuroscientist, Glenn Fox, in his article, “What the brain reveals about gratitude“, argues that scientific studies have established that expressing gratitude can improve your health, your relationships and your overall happiness.  He also asserts that recent research demonstrates that gratitude alleviates depression.

In support of this view, Joel Wong and Joshua Brown established through their research that gratitude practice helps people who experience mental health issues as well as people who are mentally healthy.  They postulate that practising gratitude displaces “toxic emotions” such as anger and resentment through the cultivation of positive emotions such as appreciation.

Wong & Brown, drawing on their research, demonstrate that just the act of expressing gratitude has substantial personal benefits and that sharing the expression of gratitude is not essential to realise these benefits.  Their research entailed a control group of participants writing “gratitude letters”.  They established that the benefits of being grateful grow over time and that there are sustained, positive effects on the brain, including “greater neural sensitivity in the prefrontal cortex” which leads to improved mental health over time.

They comment insightfully:

Much of our time and energy is spent pursuing things that we currently don’t have.  Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things that we do have.

Robert Emmons in his ground-breaking article, “Why gratitude is good“, shares the results of research undertaken with his colleagues and lists the demonstrated physical, psychological and social benefits of gratitude.  He asserts that gratitude entails more than appreciating what is good in our life – it also involves acknowledging the people who have enabled that “goodness”.  This entails recognising that the source of what we experience as good is often someone outside of ourselves.

The researchers designing these research studies often had participants produce a gratitude journal – recording on a regular basis the things that they are grateful for.  We can generate the positive energy of gratitude by reflecting on what is good in our past life or in the present.

As we grow in mindfulness through gratitude meditation, we train our brain to recognise what is good in our life, to appreciate the contribution of others to our happiness and mental health and to express that gratitude often and spontaneously. Through this state of positivity, we are better able to handle the challenges and stresses in our life.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Being Grateful

In the previous post, I discussed how savoring the moment and the experience of pleasantness nurtures the seeds of happiness.  This savoring of the many things in our life that generate positive feelings, leads naturally to a sense of gratitude.

Being grateful

Rachel Naomi Remen who suffered unbelievably from Crohn’s disease learned how her inner strength grew with appreciating the many things in her life that she took for granted.  Rachel writes in her best-selling book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, that appreciating the small things in life can make us strong enough to deal with the big things, such as cancer and chronic illness.  She encourages us to be grateful for “the grace of a hot cup of coffee, the presence of a friend, the blessing of having a new cake or soap or an hour without pain”.

These small things are so much a part of our daily life that we overlook them until we lose them.  The same applies to our health which we so often take for granted.  Tara Brach urges us to go beyond the “to-do list”, focused on doing things, to creating a “to-be list” that focuses on being.  Whether we call it “soul” or “life force” or “consciousness”, our inner resources develop as we nourish the sense of gratitude for what is a normal part of our daily life.

Cultivating gratitude

Tara suggests a number of ways to cultivate gratitude including engaging a “gratitude buddy” (who you email every day with your gratitude list), savoring moments of pleasantness, developing a gratitude journal and/or regularly undertaking a gratitude meditation.   As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “we become what we pay attention to” – we become grateful by paying attention to the things that we are grateful for.

Gratitude enables us to deal with the challenges of daily life that would otherwise disturb our tranquility and calmness.  It opens us up  to appreciating and serving others through empathy and compassion.

As we grow in mindfulness, we become much more aware of what we value in our life, develop gratitude and build our inner resources and resilience.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dh_creative on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Happiness through Mindfulness

It seems very apt to be writing about happiness on New Year’s Day in Venice after enjoying the fireworks over the Canal Grande at midnight, surrounded by hundreds of happy people welcoming in the new year.

The happiness I am talking about here, though, is not a state precipitated by an event, occasion or the sight of fireworks.

I am talking about a state of mind that is felt at a person’s core.  It is so deep that it is not unsettled by troubled waters that are stirred up by disappointments, loss or unrealised expectations.

It is resilient in the face of life’s challenges and rises above them.  It does not cease to exist when circumstances change – it is persistent and constant.

In contrast, happiness that is only occasioned by an event can be lost when the event is over and people are no longer surrounded by the company of conviviality.  This shallower kind of happiness is vulnerable to envy, depression and boredom from the banality of a routine life.

In the sobering moments of New Year’s Day, some people may realise that their life lacks real meaning or purpose. They will go through the routine of formulating resolutions to be broken, instead of developing new habits that will provide a deep sense of happiness and joy – habits such as daily mindful practice.

Goldie Hawn spoke of her abiding happiness and joy experienced through mindfulness and her desire to share this with educators and children. Her life is full of meaning and purpose.

To grow in mindfulness and achieve the attendant calm, clarity and abiding happiness requires practice and persistence – it does not come with an occasional mindful moment.

Regular mindful practice in a way that suits you and your lifestyle will increase your mindful moments and extend to other mindful practices, e.g .you might start with mindful breathing which could lead to mindful eating and/or walking.  One mindful practice can grow out of another – and the growth can be exponential if you persist.

One mindful practice that contributes a deep sense of happiness is developing a gratitude journal or regularly expressing gratitude for who you are, what you have in life, the talents you have or the opportunities that you are given.  It extends to being grateful for your friends, family and positive colleagues and associates.

You can explicitly provide positive feedback to anyone who has provided a service to you or shown you kindness.  Developing an attitude of gratitude contributes to a state of happiness that is impervious to envy – the source of a lot of unhappiness in the world.

A deep sense of happiness is within reach as you grow in mindfulness through regular mindful practice, whatever form this takes.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of jill111 on Pixabay