As fall has arrived and the candy frenzy of Halloween has passed, we are seeing posts and calendars counting down the days until the big holiday season is officially here. Stores are already decorated and trees are in lots awaiting their lighting and tinseling in excited homes. And don’t get me wrong I LOVE, nay I LURVE (even stronger than love) the balsam-scented-package-wrapping-Chex Mix-filled Holiday, but I feel that in many ways, we are skipping over a really important one in all of our excitement.
Our American holiday of Thanksgiving brings with it the expectation that everyone will pause for 1 day and be grateful for all he or she is blessed with. Just one day. We are a nation of abundance and privilege, yet we frequently focus on what we don’t have and we are seeing higher numbers than ever of people experiencing anxiety and depression on a daily basis. There is something we can do to live happier and more fulfilling lives. And the answer begins with a regular gratitude practice.
According to a great deal of research in the field of Positive Psychology, a regular gratitude practice is one of the quickest routes to retraining the brain into happier states of being. There are posts, studies, and even books about the benefits of a gratitude practice. Upon looking up the subject of gratitude on the Greater Good Science Center‘s website, I was presented with 3300 results.
Practicing gratitude costs nothing, is easily accessible, and we can choose how we practice. Using a gratitude journal, a ritual of listing 3 things we are grateful for in our heads, or even reaching out to others to express gratitude for differences they have made in our lives are a few popular examples. And to top it off, the research shows that gratitude not only works to change our perspective and thinking patterns, but it also boosts immunity and improves cardiovascular health. Now, that is something to be grateful for.
Gratitude, in many ways, can be thought of as the foundation for changing thinking patterns and increasing happiness. In the Yoga and Positive Psychology training that I lead for YogaFit, we discuss gratitude and the trainees have assignments of take-home gratitude practices.
In that same training, we discuss the purpose of yoga as reported in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali- the primary text on yoga. The second verse of the first chapter states, in a translation that I love by Judith Hansen Lasater, that “yoga is the state in which the agitations of the mind are resolved”. So, we are practicing yoga to calm the mind, let go of judgment, comparison, attachment, and to become happier in our lives. We practice gratitude to calm the mind, become happier, and to appreciate what we already have rather than focusing on what we do not have. Could we not say that yoga itself is a practice in gratitude?
In The Yoga Sutras, pada (or chapter) 2 verse 16 states that pain that has not yet come is avoidable. In reference to gratitude, I have heard and asked the following question: How can you expect the universe to give you more if you are not grateful for what you already have? When we are focused on what we do not have, we frequently feel anxious or depressed. If we can quiet the mind, be present, and practice gratitude for what we have now, we can avoid the pain of worrying about what we do not yet have or what has not yet happened, as well as avoid the sadness of staying in the loss of what we no longer have.
Finally, the Sutras go on to tell us that when we are able to resist stealing from the present moment and what we already have, abundance will be ours. Truly and mindfully practicing gratitude for all of the good in our lives not only trains our brains to look for the good, but it also leaves no room in that moment to feel unhappy. We can experience contentment, generosity, and peace. Um…sign me up!
I feel silly asking this, but wouldn’t you like to live a happier and more fulfilling life? I thought so. Try a regular gratitude practice- it can be daily or several times per week- to retrain the brain into appreciating what you already have. Try a regular practice of quiet observation of yourself and your thoughts in the form of seated meditation or moving in a yoga class. Try to allow yourself to feel all of your emotions without limiting or resisting and try to listen to the cues your body is giving you- focusing on the breath can help to tolerate uncomfortable or overwhelming physical or emotional feelings.
Yoga and Positive Psychology, in my mind, are two different modes of practicing the same thing. Skills for living happier, more satisfying, more fulfilling lives. For both, I am grateful every day.
If you try, you will always find something to be grateful for.
Thanks for ready. I am grateful for you.
Talk again soon,