The magic sky of Taos, courtesy @taosimagery
My favorite way of learning is through feeling, which is how I learned about the practice of gratitude. One night, I went to a class on gratitude, and after discussing research findings, the teacher had us pair up with a partner for an exercise. First, Partner A complained to Partner B for five minutes, and then Partner B did the same. After a totally un-fun 10 minutes, the teacher stopped us to notice the general feel of the room, which was, yep, bleak. Then he had Partner A talk for five minutes about what they were thankful for, then ditto for Partner B. Again, he had us notice the feeling in the room and this time, the place felt great; as Ocean Robbins says “positive vibes aren’t just for hippies.”
Speaking of hippies, I’m pretty sure I live in a social network and real life bubble of them. My friends and I look on the bright side and we don’t care if it’s nerdy. Almost everyone I know practices yoga or meditation and being a healthy and good person is on the top of our to-do lists. My homies and I talk about gratitude often, and we do our best to practice it too, with good cause.
Research shows that practicing gratitude reduces nervousness and stress, it increases a sense of well-being, generosity and reciprocity, it engenders altruistic love and fosters happiness.
Dr. Robert Emmons of U.C. Davis is an expert on gratitude. Dr. Emmons and his colleague Michael McCullough of the University of Miami did a study involving three groups of participants. The first group kept weekly journals highlighting five things they were grateful for about the past week. The second group kept a journal listing five things that inconvenienced them during the week. The third group just reported on the events of their lives, not focusing on positive or negative. After 10 weeks, the researchers disclosed that the gratitude seeking participants were 25% happier than their friends in the other groups and they: “slept better, exercised more, had an increase in positive emotions, had more rhythmic heartbeats, progressed towards personal goals more quickly and helped others more often.”
But why do you suppose gratitude has such a positive impact? Gratitude is a major component of my work as a B.E.S.T. practitioner. In B.E.S.T., we believe that if we can’t be grateful for the message that our body is giving us, or for the difficult situation we might find ourselves in, then we can’t move past it. Physiologically speaking, not being able to move past it means not healing.
There’s no better time to start this practice than now, during this month of Thanksgiving. As poet Edwin Arlington Robinson says, “There are two kinds of gratitude: the sudden kind we feel for what we receive, and the larger kind we feel for what we give.” Happy thanks and happy giving.
There are many ways to practice gratitude and there are so many reasons to be thankful. Author and teacher Angeles Arrien suggests these five ways:
1. Start a gratitude journal
2. Call, visit or send notes to those you are grateful for
3. Anticipate the unexpected blessings that are already on their way
4. Hold a monthly gratitude circle
5. Remember times of deep challenge or hardship and be grateful to have moved beyond those afflictions