Gratitude. Grateful. Thankful. So many ways to express all that is right in the world.
It seems like the world is always in a race to get to an imaginary finish line. We run at the speed of light, knocking down everything standing in our way, but not quite sure why we are running in the first place.
It’s not our fault. It is just the way the world is, and we are just trying to keep from falling behind.
Work pressures squeeze us like fresh lemons off the tree. Family life spins us from soccer practice to dance recitals, from dinner making to microwave zapping, from fresh sheets to unemptied dishwashers (kids, when you see the little green light come on, that is your clue that you better put away the dishes instead of ignoring it hoping Mom doesn’t notice. 😊)
Even our “Me” time has become a task to cross off.
Before I began writing this month’s newsletter, I sat back for a moment as a spectator to my life and observed the stuff that I let clutter my days. What things was I hoarding in myself that I would be better served without it there? And why was I doing it?
I am beginning to realize that half of the things that I do, I am not even sure why I do it or why I feel like it would be of any benefit. Why do I worry so much over things that won’t even matter in a few days? Why do I become defeated when I feel I can’t help everyone get better?
When I fill this space with things that don’t serve me, it doesn’t help me grow. It only robs me of more. I don’t sleep as well. I am more fatigued. My mood is blah. I find no motivation. Simply put, I feel sicker-physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The analogy is like this. When we binge on our favorite goodies, the first few bites feel amazing. But the more our stomachs fill up, the emptier we feel.
The physical symptoms we experience manifests from our internal chaos. The worry. The fear. The inability to control everything. The sadness. The anger. All of it. They are the leeches that invade our ecosystem and pollute the very fiber of the life we live.
Imagine the overtime the body must do to compensate for this disruption. I can’t even begin to remotely understand the extent of it. Even though we may not understand it, we experience it every time our body crops up with another symptom.
When we know better, we do better.
The neuroscience of gratitude is one of the most powerful areas of medicine making headlines. More and more physicians incorporate gratitude healing into their practice and with their patients, I know I do.
How exactly does expressing gratitude help us to live a healthier life?
According to Positive Psychology, a study done in 2014 by Zahn, Garrido, Moll, & Grafman, showed people who repeatedly express gratitude were found to have a higher volume of grey matter in the right inferior temporal gyrus.
Gratitude increases serotonin and dopamine levels, two neurotransmitters that are responsible for our mood and a ‘feel good’ vibe. Higher dopamine levels can also help improve pain by down regulating pain receptors.
Dr. Alex Korb, author of the book ‘Grateful Brain,’ (2012) said that our brain is conditioned to function in a repeated way. When we continue to respond to situations with worry and fear, we subconsciously re-wire our brain to expect the worst for every outcome. But when we practice gratitude, we train the brain to redirect thoughts and emotions towards positive, hopeful outcomes.
The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA stated that gratitude does change the neural structures in the brain and make us feel happier and more content. Feeling grateful and appreciating others when they do something good for us triggers the ‘good’ hormones and regulates effective functioning of the immune system. Scientists have suggested that by activating the reward center of the brain, gratitude exchange alters the way we see the world and ourselves.
Establishing a practice of gratitude doesn’t need to be another “thing” we do. It simply means we need to stop running long enough to capture that “selfie”. Translation: Stop and smell the roses.
Here are simple ways to begin incorporating an attitude of gratitude into your life:
- When you see your reflection either in a mirror or window, stop and tell yourself how awesome you are. Before you can give thanks to the world, you must be thankful for who you are. Then take three deep healing breaths before moving on.
- Say ‘thank you’ to inanimate objects. I do this all the time. When I am at the store, I will say ‘thank you cart for carrying the weight of everything I put on you’. I will also talk to the vegetables and pots and pans as I am cooking, or when I am doing laundry. I basically walk around saying thank you to everyone and everything for being on my team and for supporting and providing me all that I need to live the life in the way I choose to live it.
- Gratitude list. If you are not into journaling, it is ok. Simply write down three things daily that you are thankful for. Keep it as simple as on a sticky note or as public as posting it on your social media feed. Where you write it is not as important as that you do. Whenever I write a check, I write “TY” in the note line. TY is my code to say thank you Universe for providing me with the financial means to be able to afford to write that amount.
- Dollar a Day. Much like a penny jar, every time you catch yourself thinking, feeling, or speaking a moment of gratitude, put $1 (or whatever amount) into the jar. At the end of the month, you should have a minimum of $30. With each month, try to do better than the last. Repetition helps re-wire old patterns into new healing.
- Spread the flames. This one maybe a little harder to do than the rest, but I think it is worth trying. When everyone around us is negative, it won’t be long before we join the party. But imagine if we strike the match of gratitude within ourselves and paid it forward, how different the world would look. If things can go viral on Tik-Tok, why not in real life! Everyday tell either a stranger, a family member, your social media groupies, colleague, anyone other than yourself how grateful you are for them, to them, because of them. What do you think that will do for their lives? Wow! A lot! More than we realize. If each one of us did that daily to just ONE person, happiness would fill our thoughts, productivity would dominate the workplace, healing would occur in our body, tolerance and understanding would blanket humanity.
It is possible. It can happen. And it only takes one strike of the match to start! We must not focus on everything that is wrong in our lives, but we must stay present with all that is right with us. You can begin to harness your power of healing in this vast space of stillness and gratitude.
Just be and listen.
Wishing each and every one of you a safe and grateful Thanksgiving.