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Gratitude and Mindfulness

What is gratitude?

According to the Oxford dictionary, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.

According to this article, Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components, which he describes in a Greater Good essay, ‘Why Gratitude Is Good.’

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

  • Stronger immune system

  • Less bothered by aches and pains

  • Higher levels of positive emotions

  • More joy and pleasure

  • More helpful, generous and compassionate

  • Less lonely

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is most associated with being a Buddhist tradition, and is a practice whereby you pay attention to the present moment, including your body, thoughts and surroundings, without judgment. This is especially good for those of us who get stuck on anxiety based ruminating. Mindfulness is more about watching ones thoughts go by like clouds, while also trying not to react emotionally to those thoughts.

How You can Cultivate Gratitude

Mindful walks: Walks are a great way to cultivate mindfulness, especially walks in nature. One of the best things about walks, or any physical exercise really, is incorporating the body and the mind together and getting the chance to use these two to take note of the natural world; the feel of a flowers petals, the sounds of birds chirping, the smell of pine or evergreen or wet earth. Or even if you’re just going for a short run at the gym or a game on the squash court, using our bodies helps get the endorphins flowing and the stress levels down.

Meditation: Meditation is almost a natural companion to mindfulness, as they go together like peanut butter and jelly. Meditation has many purposes and many benefits, from lower blood pressure and heart rate to lowering stress levels. People write whole books on meditation, so I won’t get too into the weeds, but I’ll tell you a little secret; however it works for you is just fine. Some of us can get intimidated if we are new to meditating because we think maybe there is a right and wrong was to do it. The only thing to keep in mind is that when sitting down to meditate, one should try to just observe their thoughts and watch them go by like passing clouds. Other than that, whatever makes you comfortable is just fine, from incense, or candles to closed eyes or open, sitting on the floor or a comfy chair.

Nature: This one is similar to number one. Nature’s best asset is how well it helps us to ground ourselves in the present moment. Nature does this through the many sensory experiences it offers, stimulating both body and mind at the same time through the five senses. If walking isn’t feasible for you, you can still enjoy nature by having a nice picnic in the park or just sitting on a bench and feeding the ducks. Whatever way you decide to enjoy our natural world, it will always be there waiting for you.

Expressions of gratitude: This one I think people have really left behind in the age of electronic mail, but it is no less important or meaningful. A sweet and simple note - whether an email, an old fashioned card or letter or even just a sticky note - can be super powerful. And who doesn’t like being showered with appreciation?

Gratitude list/journal: This is tried and true, but a no less effective method of really internalizing some thankfulness. Sometimes we go through life almost like just going through the motions, and in doing so, we forget how lucky we really are. A gratitude list or journal are things that therapists often recommend to their patients, and is also a standard method of therapy in twelve step groups and other support groups. It’s as simple as jotting down a few things you are grateful for in the moment, whether that be on a sticky note, a journal, your laptop or maybe just telling them to a friend or partner.

Help someone else: My mom always said the best way to get out of your own problems is to help someone else. Whenever I feel down, or just too consumed with my own problems, I like to volunteer somewhere, or find opportunities to help a friend. Maybe start a local book drive for the library or for incarcerated people. Giving back is a great way to remind yourself of the blessings you do have in your life, and that we all have something we can be grateful for.

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