“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
~ Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden
This upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is a great reminder to count our blessings. One way to do this is to take 15 minutes out of the year and meditate on Gratitude. This is becoming an increasingly important topic in the mainstream healthcare and yoga communities. For good reason. Feeling and expressing gratitude can have a profound effect on your life—especially if you do it on a daily basis, all year round.
Scientific studies are supporting the intuitive conclusion that the feeling of gratitude has a powerful effect on happiness and well-being. For more than 10 years, Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis has been studying the effect of gratitude on physical and psychological health as well as interpersonal relationships. The results of his studies show that people who regularly practice gratitude experience benefits such as the following1:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated.
If we wish to feel happier and more contentment in our lives and see positive change in society, fostering an attitude of gratitude is essential. Author Melodie Beattie puts it eloquently, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”2
There are many ways to meditate on gratitude.
Gratitude journal: In many of his experiments, Dr. Emmons had participants keep a “gratitude journal.” You can do this as a daily practice of writing one or more things down each day that you are grateful for, or you could do it on a weekly basis. Besides nurturing the habit of finding gratitude each day, you quickly end up with a long list that you can read through on days when you’re feeling down, and be reminded of all the good in your life. This is also an activity that could be done with children to help cultivate the habit of gratitude from an early age.
Thank you notes: Writing thank you notes cultivates gratitude and strengthens relationships. Write a letter to a friend or loved one simply expressing your appreciation for them. Mail it the old fashioned way, email it, or read it in person. A variation of this is writing a letter to someone you may not know. Perhaps the mail carrier, the gas station attendant, the bus driver, the librarian…be creative – everybody loves to feel appreciated. You could even keep a stack of thank you cards in your car to have handy whenever you feel inspired to pass on the gift of gratitude. Try writing at least one thank you note each month.
Meditation: If you already have a daily meditation practice, begin adding a few moments to ponder the things you are grateful for. If you are new to meditation, start out with a few minutes of deep breathing and focus on one thing that you are grateful for. Below is an article you can use for a guided meditation on gratitude. You can read through it beforehand, have someone read the parts in italics to you, or create a recording that you can listen to. It should take about 15 minutes and leave you feeling peaceful, refreshed – and grateful.
Meditation on Gratitude and Joy
(This is an excerpt from his book, “The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace)
Buddhist monks begin each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings of their life. Native American elders begin each ceremony with grateful prayers to mother earth and father sky, to the four directions, to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. In Tibet, the monks and nuns even offer prayers of gratitude for the suffering they have been given: “Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in the deepest possible compassion and wisdom.”
The aim of spiritual life is to awaken a joyful freedom, a benevolent and compassionate heart in spite of everything.
Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small, an appreciation of the moments of good fortune that sustain our life every day. We have so much to be grateful for.
Gratitude is confidence in life itself. It is not sentimental, not jealous, nor judgmental. Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude receives in wonder the myriad offerings of the rain and the earth, the care that supports every single life.
As gratitude grows it gives rise to joy. We experience the courage to rejoice in our own good fortune and in the good fortune of others.
Joy is natural to an open heart. In it, we are not afraid of pleasure. We do not mistakenly believe it is disloyal to the suffering of the world to honor the happiness we have been given.
Like gratitude, joy gladdens the heart. We can be joyful for people we love, for moments of goodness, for sunlight and trees, and for the breath within our breast. And as our joy grows we finally discover a happiness without cause. Like an innocent child who does not have to do anything to be happy, we can rejoice in life itself, in being alive.
Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:
With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.
With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.
I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.
Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.
Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, for their happiness and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:
May you be joyful.
May your happiness increase.
May you not be separated from great happiness.
May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.
Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.
Then gradually open the meditation to include neutral people, difficult people, and even enemies- until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.
As you meditate, you may find it helpful to play soft music to help you relax and “center” your thoughts. For an example click here. Or, find other free meditation music you might like from these sites:
As always, “Love Life! Eat Healthy, Be Happy.” And, this Thanksgiving …be grateful.
1 Emmons, Robert. “Why gratitude is good.” Nov 16, 2010. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good. Accessed Oct 14, 2016.
2 Reynolds, Allyson. “Mini Catastrophes and an “Attitude of Gratitude”.” Nov. 15, 2013. https://powerofmoms.com/mini-catastrophes-and-an-attitude-of-gratitude/ Accessed Oct 14, 2016.