Gratitude – counting your blessings

From Mysan’s class theme Gratitude the other week, the wonderful Margie Braunstein has provided us with an extract from her book “Getting to the Heart of Stress”

Read and enjoy!

 

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

Gratitude, thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive are all great ways to induce the relaxation response and reduce harmful stress.

An attitude of gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present.  It’s as if everything were a gift when you become aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given.  You’ve got to look for the gifts.

Practicing gratitude was an important practice for me around my money worries.  It didn’t change the situation.  No magical lottery win appeared but what it gave me was much more valuable.  I learned how to settle my fight / flight brain activation which in turn has helped me to change at a both a mental and physical level.

I still feel worried about money sometimes but it only lasts a few minutes.  Now I notice the worry, feel the sensation, breathe into it and bring gratitude for my life into my mind and in this way, I have changed my relationship and my neural programming.  I also review my budget and create ways to pay the bills!

I also used gratitude to help Anna emerge from the stress she felt in relationship with her mother. Through AWARENESS and ACCEPTANCE; Anna could identify love for her mother who had given her the gift of life.  She took responsibility for her resistance and changed the deeply wired program which produced the subsequent stress.

Behavioural psychology research has shown that surprisingly profound improvements can follow the regular practice of gratitude.  Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient; it strengthens their relationships, improves their health, and reduces stress related illness.

In 2003 two psychologists, Michael McCollough and Robert Emmons wrote an article ‘Counting Blessings versus Burdens’, an experimental investigation of gratitude about an experiment they conducted on gratitude and its impact on well-being.

The study followed several hundred people who were asked to keep daily diaries.

The first of three groups kept a diary of events that occurred during the day without being told specifically to write about either good or bad things; the second group was told to record their unpleasant experiences; and the last group was instructed to make a daily list of things for which they felt grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy.

In addition, those in the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.

Other studies over the last ten years by Dr. Emmons– who is considered a foremost expert on gratitude showed increased happiness levels by around 25%.

He suggests your basic level of happiness is set at a predetermined level.

If you perceive something negative during your day, happiness can drop momentarily, but then it returns to its natural set-point.  Likewise, if something positive happens to you, your level of happiness rises, and then it returns once again to your ‘happiness set-point’.

A practice of gratitude raises your ‘happiness set-point’ so you can remain at a higher level of happiness regardless of outside circumstances.

Emmons’ research also shows that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, more resilient, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude.

He says, “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great.  It just means we are aware of our blessings.”

Have you ever truly looked at a leaf? It is truly a wonder of creation, just as you are. We all sometimes take for granted the beauty of nature, the benefits modern society brings and the privilege and good fortune of our lives.

Take a moment to look at a leaf. Really study it in fine detail. Notice the complexity and magnificence.  Can you generate a sense of awe for the existence of this wondrous creation? That is gratitude.

Take a look at your life. Really study it in fine detail. Notice the complexity and magnificence.  Can you generate a sense of awe for the existence of this wondrous creation? That is gratitude.

Take a look around you. What do you see in your line of vision that you can feel grateful for? That pen? The desk? The mobile phone? There could be a thousand things in front of you to feel grateful for when you look through the lens of gratitude.

Extract from Margie Braunstein “Getting to the Heart of Stress”

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