On Nov. 30, 2019, Alan gave a special presentation on an very important Buddhist practice: Gratitude.
Following is the outline of ideas he presented with links to the source articles on Gratitude.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. It is a recognition of value independent of monetary worth. Spontaneously generated from within, it is an affirmation of goodness.
Research shows that people differ in the degree to which they are inclined to experience and express gratitude. As a result, gratitude is said to exist both as a temporary feeling and as a dispositional trait. In both cases, gratitude involves a process of recognizing, first, that one has obtained a positive outcome and, second, that there is an external source for that good outcome.
… Gratitude is a spontaneous feeling but, increasingly, research demonstrates its value as a practice—that is, making conscious efforts to count one’s blessings. Studies show that people can deliberately cultivate gratitude—and there important social and personal benefits to doing so.
Why Gratitude Matters?
… Psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions as resentment and envy, minimizing the possibility of ruminating over them (a hallmark of depression).
Further, the beneficial effects snowball over time. Brain scans of people assigned a task that stimulates expression of gratitude show lasting changes in the prefrontal cortex that heighten sensitivity to future experiences of gratitude. The emotion literally pays itself forward.
SOURCE: “Gratitude.” Psychology Today, n.d., www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gratitude
Components of Gratitude
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.”
Emmons and other researchers see the social dimension as being especially important to gratitude. “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion,“ writes Emmons, “because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
SOURCE: “What Is Gratitude?” Greater Good Magazine, n.d., www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition
REFERENCE: Robert Emmons*, “Why Gratitude Is Good.” Greater Good Magazine, Nov. 16 2010, www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
How can we practice gratitude?
This is a spiritual practice that gains momentum over time and with practice. If you are like me you will have days where you can find every reason under the sun why you can’t possibly do it. (Isn’t putting the rubbish out much more important?!)Gratitude doesn’t seem to come as easily as grumbling does, and you will likely resist this exercise until the cows come home, as they say in New Zealand. Waiting for the resistance to pass is futile. Just do it.I have learnt from this experience that even when you can hardly summon up the energy to shift into gratitude—even when you have to force yourself to begin, it still has magnetizing power.
So do it. Sit down with pen and paper or at your computer and start, “I am grateful for …” Maybe you will have to stop there for a minute and wait because you just can’t think of anything. But just wait. Surrender to the moment. Something inside you will shift. The words will come.This force that you are tapping into is bigger than you and it is bigger than your problem, no matter how big that is. That tide of fear that is overwhelming you is not all there is. There is so much more to you than that.Your gratitude list is a bridge across those troubled waters to a resting place on the other side.
- Write it down.
Sometimes, if we were both very busy, we would tell each other what we were grateful for during our daily phone conversation. For some reason I never felt this had as much power as writing. There was just something about the energy that seemed to surround the written list that set it apart.
- Feel it.
Some days you will write without feeling a shred of gratitude. That’s ok. Just do it anyway. And when you can summon up the feeling of gratitude in your heart, let it percolate through every cell in your body. Embody it. Place your hands on your heart. Raise your head, lift your body up, and raise your arms.Move into the feeling. Dance it. Sing it. Aspire to a fullness of heart, no matter what is going on around you.
- Choose a set time of day.
You may want to do this when you first wake in the morning or late at night before you go to sleep. This is a tricky one for us since we live in different time zones. The best we can manage is that she usually writes her list to me while I am asleep and I usually write my list to her while she is asleep.
- Practice present-moment gratitude.
As you move through your day, pause now and then when you remember, and think as you do something “I am grateful.”I like to do this with my morning cup of tea. Try touching your tea or coffee cup with gentle love and appreciation before you take your first sip. Moving through your day with awareness and grace in this way will mean that when you do sit down to write your gratitude list those things will come to mind.
- Share the gratitude.
Partner with someone. You may not have a life partner half a world away as I do (lucky you!) but find someone to partner with. You will keep each other going and that sense of obligation to that person will give you the push you need to write your list on those days when it just seems too hard.Reading what the other person has written helps you to access your own gratitude more easily, and it is fun to watch your gratitude email grown longer and longer and longer! You can see your progress.
- Don’t stop once you start to see results!
When we first began to see results we thought we’d take a break from gratitude for a while. We quickly saw though that the energy surrounding our recovery would then start to lag and lose some of its oomph. So we’d drag ourselves back into the practice again and, as if by magic, our recovery would regain its momentum.
- Allow yourself to be human.
Grumble if you must. Miss the odd day here and there. Write “I am grateful I am writing my gratitude list” five times if you can think of nothing else. We sometimes went three or four days without writing.We would deal with that by either playing catch up—writing a few days in one—or by just letting those few days go and starting back again where we left off. Beware the little voice that says “You’ve missed a day. You’ve failed miserably at being grateful!” Ignore it. Get back up on your horse and keep riding!Your best awaits you!
SOURCE: Helen Russell**, “How to Start a Gratitude Practice to Change Your Life.”, Tiny Buddha, n.d.,www.tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-start-a-gratitude-practice-to-change-your-life/
Check out the full articles cited above, some even provide video of the author speaking about gratitute!
- “Gratitude” from Psychology Today
- “What Is Gratitude?” from Greater Good Magazine
- “Why Gratitude Is Good” by Robert Emmons*
- “How to Start a Gratitude Practice to Change Your Life” by Helen Russell**
* Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. He is the author of the books “Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity” and “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”
** Helen Russell is a spiritual creative, writer and photographer who mostly lives in the south island of New Zealand. Her goal is to inspire others to live with spirit in their everyday lives.