What Is Gratitude?
The Latin word gratus, meaning “pleasing” or “thankful,” gives us the root grat. To feel grateful is to feel thankful for something. Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness.
Why Is It Important?
Most people tend to focus on what they want or what they don't have, unknowingly producing feelings of lack, of craving, of unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, and even sadness or unworthiness. All of these emotional states are created by the thoughts within our minds and where we choose to focus our attention.
"The roots of suffering, the real roots of all our problems, are in the mind—and that's a good thing, because it means the place we can address our problems is also in the mind. All of the problems in the world can be traced to a feeling of not being whole. So many of our problems arise because we feel cut off from something we need. We do not feel whole and therefore turn expectantly toward other people for the qualities we imagine missing in ourselves. All of the problems of the world, from one person's anxiety to warfare between nations, can be traced to this feeling of not being whole."
Gratitude is important because it cultivates feelings of wholeness, it makes us feel complete with who we are and what we have, and it frees us from the suffering of craving and desire. It is often said that gratitude is not a result of happiness, but that happiness is a result of gratitude. We are not grateful because we are happy, we are happy because we are grateful. Everyone wants happiness, contentment, peace, joy, and love. Our suffering arises when we seek for these feelings through external objects, rather than cultivating them within ourselves. Focusing on what we are grateful for waters the seeds of happiness and contentment within us, and makes us realize that what we already have in our lives is more than enough. Gratitude completely shifts our perception from one of desire and lack, to one of appreciation and contentment, and following this shift in perception are feelings of great joy and happiness.
Instead of focusing on what we want or don't have—that new phone, that fancy car, that nice house, a romantic partner, more money, etc.—we turn our attention onto what we do have that we are thankful for—this sacred breath that keeps us alive, the water and food that nourishes our bodies, our health, our ability to see and hear, our friends and family, our home, this life experience, the list is endless. There are so many things to be thankful for. Everything that we have is a gift—something that we have been blessed with by Nature. By recognizing the many gifts we have been given and being thankful for them, we become content with what we have, and our emotional state becomes one of happiness, joy, and bliss.
Gratitude is the key to happiness. Focusing on what we have now that we are grateful for unlocks the door to all of the feelings that we have been seeking externally. We don't really want most of the things that we desire. What we really want is the release from desire that comes when we get the object of our desire—but this release is temporary. What we really want is the contentment that is present when we don't desire anything. Unfortunately, most do not realize this, and so they chase one desire after the next, hoping that they will get lasting fulfillment, but they never do. The fulfillment is short-lived, and that is because they misunderstand the nature of their desires and what it is they are really seeking.
You don't need anything to be grateful and content. In fact, gratitude and contentment free you from the very feeling of needing something that you don't have. All you have to do is focus on what you do have that you are grateful for. Simply by appreciating what you have you become content, and as many people have said throughout history: "contentment is the greatest wealth."
The Science of Gratitude
Advanced research at the Institute of HeartMath and elsewhere has provided evidence that gratitude is not simply a nice sentiment or feeling. Sustained feelings of gratitude have real benefits, including:
• Biochemical changes – Favorable changes in the body’s biochemistry include improved hormonal balance and an increase in production of DHEA, the “anti-aging hormone.”
• Boost to the immune system – The IgA antibody, which serves as the first line of defense against pathogens, increases in the body.
• Emotional “compound interest” – The accumulated effect of sustained appreciation and gratitude is that these feelings, and coherence, are easier to recreate with continued practice. This is because experiencing an emotion reinforces the neural pathways of that particular emotion as it excites the brain, heart and nervous system.
In a HeartMath study it was observed that just five minutes of genuinely feeling a positive emotion such as appreciation, care and or compassion can give a beneficial boost to the immune system. Their researchers have also found that positive emotions like appreciation can increase heart-rhythm coherence—a balance or smoothness in one’s heart rhythms.
Heart-focused, sincere, positive feeling states boost the immune system, while negative emotions can suppress the immune response for up to six hours. These actual heart-monitor readouts contrast the heart-rhythm pattern of someone experiencing frustration, then appreciation. The smooth heart rhythm, measured by heart-rate variability (HRV), is what scientists call a highly ordered or coherent pattern and is a sign of good health and emotional balance.
An effective way to improve mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being is to invoke and sustain sincere appreciation. The greater your capacity for sincere appreciation, the deeper the connection to your heart, where intuition and unlimited inspiration and possibilities reside.
Gratitude is healthy for our bodies and minds as it produces emotional state of happiness, wholeness, and well-being. Studies show that the body functions better, and heals faster, when in a state of gratitude and happiness. Each time we feel an emotion, our brain produces hormones that have an effect on our body. When we have feelings of happiness, joy, and gratitude, hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are released, which have a beneficial effect on the body. When we are in a state of fear, stress, or anxiety, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released, which can have a harmful effect on the body.
Nearly everyone can find something—whether big or small—to genuinely appreciate, and stress experts say that the act of simply recalling a time of feeling sincere appreciation and then intentionally focusing on that feeling for a few moments can reduce emotional stress. Learning to self-generate positive emotions such as appreciation can also have a beneficial effect on attitudes and relationships.
"There can only be one solution to any problem: a change in attitude and in consciousness."
Cultivating Feelings of Gratitude
Here we have provided a quick practice for cultivating feelings of gratitude, and thus heart-rhythm coherence. This practice was created by Gregg Braden, a man who is well informed on the power of prayer, the science of the heart, and the beneficial effects of gratitude on the body. We highly recommend checking out his work: http://www.greggbraden.com/
Steps for Quick Coherence
Step 1: Heart Focus & Steady Breath
Heart Focus. Shift your focus into the area of your heart, and begin to breathe a little more slowly than usual, as if your breath is coming from your heart.
This step is a powerful technique unto itself and can be used when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the day’s events or when you simply desire to be more connected with yourself.
As you slow your breathing, you are sending a signal to your body in general, and your heart specifically, that you are in a place that is safe and it’s okay to turn your attention inward.
Step 2: Activate a Positive Feeling
Activate a Positive Feeling. Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life. The easiest way to do this is to think of a beautiful place you have been or to think of a very close friend or loved one.
The key in this step is to first create the feeling, to the best of your ability, and then to embrace the feeling, again to the best of your ability.
Your ability to sustain the feeling is what maintains the optimal conversation between your heart and your brain.
As with any skill, you’ll find, I think, that the more you practice creating coherence between your heart and your brain, the easier it becomes to do so and find that inner balance. And the more you consciously practice this 2-step meditation, the more natural the experience of achieving coherence begins to feel to you.
With the growing level of ease in achieving heart-brain coherence, you’ll also discover your ability to sustain the connection between your heart and your brain for longer periods of time.
Finding inner peace and balance will be something you can begin to cultivate at will, allowing you to be more resilient when conditions in your life become more challenging and stressful. You can practice this technique anywhere and any time."