There are many health benefits associated with the experience of gratitude, including:
- Decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Decreased difficulties with chronic pain.
- Lowered levels of stress hormones.
- Decreased blood pressure.
- Decreased hostility and aggression.
- Greater happiness.
- Improved sleep, mood, and immunity.
- Increased creativity.
- Improved self-esteem.
- Improved decision-making skills.
- Improved quality of life.
There are several ways to practice gratitude: Journaling daily about the things you are grateful for; saying thanks to people who have helped you; thanking yourself; and every day say 3 things aloud that you are grateful for.
But what really is gratitude? Is it sufficient to just say or write the words “I’m grateful,” or “Thank you,” without allowing the feeling to seep through you? Maybe. Or maybe not.
If we want to attempt to do something, let’s do it with the intention of gaining correct results from the effort. So, if we are trying to practice gratitude, it’s important the practice does not become habitual or robotic that won’t reap benefits. Practicing gratitude is not just a checklist of something more to do, but it’s an effort to feel something deep, meaningful, and gratifying.
Dr Robert Emmons, a leading researcher in the psychology of gratitude states, “Gratitude heals, energizes, and transforms lives.” At the University of California, Davis, empirical research on gratitude demonstrated its strong association with well-being and goal attainment. They also explored the theological origins of cultivating gratitude as a virtue in major monotheistic traditions, and identified gratitude as both an emotional state and an attitude towards life that enhances human strength.
Gratitude is a super-power positive emotion. It has a unique capacity to put people's bodies at ease. Negative emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety— even sadness and crying—arouse people's autonomic nervous systems, producing increases in heart rate, vasoconstriction, and blood pressure, among other changes.
Even in crisis, the positive emotion of gratitude can occur. Amidst the amalgam of anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety, positive emotions seem unwarranted, and may seem inappropriate. Even so, gratitude is known to co-occur alongside negative emotions during stressful circumstances.
For example, in face of a tragedy, people might have felt grateful to be alive or to know that their loved ones were safe. Gratitude helps us draw loved ones closer as an uncertain future may shift our social priorities. Being grateful reduces the focus on negative emotions and can put people's minds at ease. This is a welcomed effect of positive emotions in crises.
Gratitude helps us show more affection not just for family members, but also for friends, colleagues, partners, and our communities. We develop stronger relationships and friendships and stronger social supports, which in turn increases our resources and helps strengthen our resiliency towards future stressors.
As such, to the extent that gratitude is a super-power positive emotion, other types of positive emotions can wear off because they tend to adapt to positive circumstances in our life so that the new car, or the new house or new family member may not be as exciting after a while. But with gratitude, we appreciate the value of something in our life. With gratitude, we notice the positives more, which magnifies the pleasures in life. Instead of adapting to the good things in our life, we celebrate them.
This continues as long we don’t take anything for granted. For example, not taking for granted the soothing blue color of a beautiful sky with white clouds that streak through it like a tapestry reminding us how expansive it is. Not taking for granted the love and care that people in our life have towards us. Not taking for granted our ability to love and to feel loved. To acknowledge that people’s affection, time, presence, energy, and efforts for us, is a priceless gift.
Spend time right now reflecting on what’s good in your life, and then unpack, amplify, and appreciate that good feeling. Become present and grateful for “what’s working.” We get more in return when we allow gratitude to fill our hearts, such as more efficacy, optimism, engagement, and creativity to name a few.
Try the following gratitude exercise:
Partake in a deep relaxation session on the Tamarkoz App to completely relax your mind and body.
Next, bring your awareness to two aspects in your life that you are deeply and sincerely grateful for. You value and know the worth of the two aspects, whether it’s a person or experience or thing. Bring each of them, individually to your awareness. Visualize them. See them clearly.
If it’s a person, visualize his or her face as precise as you can. It’s as if they are right in front of you or anything it may be. See it as exact as you can. You are looking at this person or this thing in front of you. Stay here for a while. Let the warmth of love and appreciation fill your heart.
After a few minutes, shift your focus on the second person or aspect you are grateful for. Bring them very clearly into your awareness. Visualize it as if it is all right in front of you. With intricate detail from your memory, bring it alive and brighten with light. Be here for a few minutes. As you are breathing, allow the feeling of gratitude to expand within you.
Where is the feeling you are experiencing? How does it feel?
And now think of two aspects or two people you need to acknowledge, because you know the experience or persons were valuable in your life, but you hadn’t allowed yourself to appreciate them.
What is it that you need to experience gratitude for but have not done so. Why not?
Bring the first one to your awareness. Is it a person or an experience that you know deserved your gratitude and appreciation? Allow yourself to experience that appreciation.
And now the second one. It could be an experience, or person. Is it a person who was there for you? But perhaps you hadn’t really been grateful towards them or hadn’t seen their value or acknowledge their support. Right now, see why you would have to experience gratitude towards this aspect or person or experience or whatever it is.
From now on, tell yourself that you will be grateful or appreciative towards this person who has done so much for you or whatever it is.
As you bring this exercise to the end, remember the first and most important aspect that you are the most grateful for. Whether is it a person or experience. If it is a person, visualize the person and that feeling of deep gratitude, deeply feel it in your heart. In such a way that the feeling has embedded and infused your entire being. And that dear one, visual the person and allow your entire being to be filled with complete gratitude and see what kind of feeling this is for you. Notice the kind of experience this is for you.
In closing, here’s to seeking for the good in our lives and our world. To quote the great Sufi Master Professor Nader Angha, “Hope is a planted seed in fertile ground that bears fruit. In the land of my heart, the plant of despair never grows.” (The Secret Word, page 92).
- Professor Nader Angha. 1996. The Fragrance of Sufism; The Secret Word. University Press of American, Inc.
- Gratitude as a Human Strength: Appraising the Evidence Emmons, Robert A; Crumpler, Cheryl A. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology; New York Vol. 19, Iss. 1, (Mar 2000): 56-69. DOI:10.1521/jscp.2000.19.1.56
- Fredrickson B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The American psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://doi.org/10.1037//0003-066x.56.3.218
- Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of personality and social psychology, 95(5), 1045–1062.
- Brown, B. (2022). Atlas of the heart: Mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience. Random House, Large Print.