Mindful Gratitude … the Best Medicine
Published on: October 23, 2018
Gratitude can lead us to greater abundance and wellbeing. Masooma shares how to make this practice a habit.
By Masooma Kachelo
We were all told by our parents to be grateful. Yet it wasn’t until four years ago, when I began my mindfulness practice, that I truly understood gratitude and the magical impact it has on my well-being. Throughout my life, I experienced the flood of serotonin that comes from moments of gratitude, but I wasn’t “present” enough to name it or fully understand how to turn it into a practice.
The gratitude-mindfulness link
Unlike the word mindfulness, gratitude is easier to define, and most of us have a sense of what it means. What we may not know is that when gratitude meets mindfulness, it becomes a practice, like going to the gym or eating healthy.]
Jack Kornfield, meditation teacher and author, was asked in an interview:
“What is the connection between gratitude and mindfulness?”
To become mindful, (which Zen master Suzuki Roshi calls “beginner’s mind”) is to see the world afresh without being lost in our reactions and judgments, and in seeing it afresh with a clarity, we begin to be able to respond to the world rather than react to it. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.
The practice of gratitude
The practice of gratitude is consciously creating rituals and moments to turn your attention and notice the abundance. Gratitude creates a sense of awe at all that is “right” and how little we have to do with it being so.
My husband hated wearing a suit to work every day in 32 degree humid Thai weather, irritable and focused on the discomfort he was experiencing every morning. He then began a gratitude journal (don’t ask me how these small miracles happen), which he wrote in before bed. In the morning, he set the intention to orient towards everything that was right.
In the beginning, it took a lot of effort and he would easily bounce back to his “negative bias”. However, after a month of writing, I noticed a drastic change in his mood, energy levels, and overall well-being.
My husband’s experience is not unique. In a study done at UC Davis in California, Dr. Robert Emmons, PhD., studied the effects of practicing gratitude on over 1000 people. The participants were split into two groups. One group kept a gratitude journal for a month of five things they were grateful for, and the other group kept a journal of five things that annoyed them.
What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focusing on what had gone wrong each day. In addition, the brain showed activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for compassion and feelings of relief.
Ideas for practicing gratitude
Some ways in which I have cultivated the practice of gratitude are:
- Set up a group chat with friends, in which we send each other three things we are grateful for each day. It never fails to bring a smile to my face to read the things my friends across the world are cherishing and celebrating. It’s also a fun way to connect and keep the practice going.
- Before I go to bed, I say out loud three things I am grateful for and ask my kids to do the same. I am careful to fully accept and witness whatever they share. The intention is to train the mind and create a new focus.
- Each of us in our family wrote a gratitude journal every night for almost 2 years. The children showed resistance at first, but then took their journals to camp without being asked and continued to write (another miracle).
- I started a journal dedicated to focusing on things I was grateful for in my husband. Our marriage was going through a challenging phase and I found myself stuck in my negative bias. Within a week, I felt a shift in my own mood and in the way I related to him.
As they say in the world of mindfulness, most incredible things need to be experienced and felt to realize the power they hold. Gratitude practice is no different. I encourage you to give it a try and see how it serves you.
About the Author
Masooma is a Pakistani expat and a mother of three, with a Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy from the US. A trained mindfulness teacher, she teaches mindful parenting workshops, mindful mummy & me classes, meditation to adults and to children, and facilitates mindfulness retreats. Now based in Beijing, Masooma is available for learning via Skype; email her at email@example.com.
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