“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life” – Rumi.
Today, 21 September, it is World Gratitude Day. This celebration is a great reminder for us as individuals, but also in communities and organisations, to contemplate and celebrate everything we are grateful for. Small and big.
So, what is gratitude? It is the act of being thankful – to acknowledge and appreciate people, things and circumstances in your life.
Gratitude comes about when we notice things, being in the present moment. Being mindful, we are actually being grateful. It is an undervalued act that can be an easy step to living a more contented life.
Studies have shown that some of us are naturally more grateful than others, and it relates to the neurochemical differences in the Central Nervous System.
However, by consciously practicing gratitude, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves.
When we express and receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. And this can increase happiness, reduce depression and strengthen resilience.
Grateful people often have reduced blood pressure, less chronic pain and increased energy. And those who capture grateful thoughts before going to bed often experience better sleep.
There are many ways of being grateful.
We can keep our senses open to being grateful as we go by our day, in the moment – just when our train arrives on time or just when your colleague smiles at you over lunch.
When I see something beautiful or something I want to remember and be thankful for, I place a hand on my heart, close my eyes briefly and take a mental photograph in that moment.
When I experience kindness and compassion – towards me or other people – I have a habit of saying ‘thank you’ three times in my mind. And if I am with my partner, he knows that I will often say it out aloud. It simply makes me feel better about myself and the world.
Some people keep a gratitude journal by their bed. Every evening, they jot down things they were thankful for that day, for instance:
Thank you for our cat who is always around and loves us
Thank you for a great yoga class this morning with my favourite teacher
Thank you for my legs carrying me around and letting me drive
Thank you for the lush trees in our garden
Thank you for my parents’ good health
On a rainy day, you can even go back and read your “blessings”, taking pleasure in the previous positives you have experienced.
Journaling your gratitude can be quite powerful, however, you have to really feel and mean what you write. Otherwise, it is only words on paper.
If you struggle finding just one thing to be grateful for, start with the fact that you woke up this morning and are alive! We usually take for granted that we are alive and breathing.
Another activity that may help you is a gratitude walk. Go for a walk in your neighbourhood or in a park, for instance, and use your smell, sight and hearing and perhaps touch.
Notice the people, the flowers, the grass, the sky, the houses, the birds – or whatever you experience – and appreciate it.
There are so many things that you can be thankful for – and it is your choice to take notice and practice gratitude in the small and big wonders of your life.
Focus on what you are/experience/have rather than what you are not or don’t experience/have.
You can practice gratitude in expressing to other people that you are thankful for what they are, do or say. Give other people (sincere) compliments and try giving yourself compliments! This is might actually make you smile or laugh at yourself too.
I recently came across a simple meditation for positive thinking and gratitude that I will share with you (it is a meditation practice from Kundalini Yoga):
Sit it in a relaxed position (easy pose) on the floor or in a chair. Keep your spine straight and breathe normally. Bring your hands together in front of the chest. Form a cup with your hands and bring the little fingers to touch softly. Keep your eyelids very relaxed.
As you meditate, just feel that blessings from the Universe are flowing into your cupped hands. Continue for three minutes and then inhale deeply and exhale completely to finish the meditation.
Just count your blessings.
Additional reading on the science of gratitude The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity (journal article)