The practice of gratitude comes in many forms. Growing up in a big Italian Catholic family, we ran through the ‘Grace’ prayer before a meal as fast as we could. But on holidays, we took time to say a few words from the heart in gratitude for our family and friends, and always to the hard-working cooks.
From our earliest training in school, we were taught the story of the Pilgrims and the first ever Thanksgiving Feast. It was a celebration of gratitude for the harvest and thanks to the Greater Source (God if you’re religious) and to the Indigenous Peoples who taught the Pilgrims to survive their first harrowing years.
Gratitude is More than a Season
As adults, we know that this annual celebration is much more than a table laden with food. We understand that the practice of gratitude extends beyond this day to our entire life. Gratitude is more than a season; it is a choice that we make. Every time we invoke gratitude we turn our heart to our more loving state, and we bring joy and a smile to our whole being.
Even mental health experts and researchers now acknowledge that gratitude is integral to health and well-being. A feeling of thankfulness can help people cope with stress and boost immune function. In addition, people who engage in the practice of gratitude ‘Generally take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations,” according to University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center, reports the practice of gratitude leads to measurable effects on multiple brain systems including: mood neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine); reproductive hormones (testosterone); social bonding hormones (oxytocin); Cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine); inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines); stress hormones (cortisol); cardiac and EEG rhythms; blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Gratitude for a Great Beginning
For example, simply take a few minutes to journal your thoughts. Another way is to bring the mind to your heart, imagine the warmth of love, and allow your thoughts of gratitude to float up like the messages in an 8-ball. Bask in the good feeling you’ll get when you think of those people, places, things that you are grateful for. Let that feeling fill your entire being and bring a smile to your face.
If these aren’t for you, try linking a moment for gratitude to something that you already do. For example, while brushing your teeth or taking a shower are great times to practice mindfulness, you can also use them to turn the mind to gratitude like you do before a holiday meal. Or maybe every time you drive up to your home, before you get out of the car to go in, this is another opportunity to focus on what you’re grateful for. I’ll bet if you think about your loved ones inside – be they 2-legged, 4-legged, winged or leafed – they will notice a difference in your demeanor.
Gratitude for a Great Ending
Consider ending your day with another moment of gratitude before bed. This practice will help get your mind off the stresses of the day and into a better, more beautiful state for sleep. Even if you’ve had a lousy day, re-frame that; think about the benefits in your life and what you may be taking for granted.
In addition, keep in mind that no matter our financial status, there are always plenty of things for which we can be grateful. Adversity or loss seems to make us more aware of how to employ the practice of gratitude.
In my personal Qigong practice, and in all the classes I teach, I end with three gathering breaths. The final breath is the ‘gratitude breath’. Besides invoking the practice of gratitude, it is a perfect way to close any practice and present ourselves to the world. Sometimes certain people come to my mind, but always gratitude to those who help me, to nature, and to the Universal Energies that guide and enhance my life.
For this holiday meal, how about pausing for a few moments of mindfulness and really focus on heart-felt thanks. Maybe even join hands with those at the table, or look into others’ eyes as you express your gratitude. It’s good for everyone when you share your gratitude.
My gratitude extends to you, my readers, who inspire me to keep going. I’ll admit, sometimes I wonder why the heck I bother with trying to get a business rolling, and especially to deal with the frustration and steep learning curve of technology. Then someone posts a comment, sends me an email expressing appreciation for my work, or my students tell me how much they are benefiting from my class. Those are the things that give me reason to keep going. As humans, we all need affirmation some times, and your comments and interest are mine.
Thank you for reading my work, for sharing, and for opening your heart to a community of people who care about being connected authentically – with others and with the natural world around us.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.