A sense gratitude is often fleeting in the human experience, but, it can be cultivated through regular mindfulness practice in order to support our well-being. In our “practice of the month” posts, we’ve discussed some of the more challenging aspects of our mindfulness practice, such as stress and anxiety. While it can be helpful to develop tools to work with some of these difficult aspects of our minds, it is equally beneficial to focus on the qualities of our minds and hearts that are the basis for happiness and well-being.
For this Practice of the Month, we are going to explore and develop the practice of Gratitude.
Research on Happiness and Gratitude
Researchers of positive psychology have discovered that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude gives people improved access to constructive emotions and it allows us to better participate in meaningful life experiences. It provides the foundation for improved health, resiliency, and the ability to foster strong relationships.
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Happiness research continues to indicate that gratitude is one of the key ingredients to human happiness and continued well-being. Before we delve more deeply into gratitude, let’s take a look at what happiness is, how it can be defined and some of the common misconceptions that are prominent in our culture.
Let’s explore three kinds of happiness:
First: The pleasant life. This consists of having all the pleasure available to us and the resources and means to amplify and sustain this pleasure. This is often the kind of happiness we see in the media, celebrity life, and mainstream culture. As most of us have come to realize, this kind of happiness is very limited and doesn’t guarantee long term well-being.
Second: The good life. The good life is rooted in knowing what your strengths and values are, and then building your work, friendships, connections, enjoyment, and families upon these strengths. This is what creates purpose and belonging.
Third: The meaningful life. This kind of happiness is characterized by utilizing your strengths and values in the service of the things that you believe are greater than you. There is a Greek term, eudaimonia, which in Greek philosophy means achieving the best conditions possible for a human being that results in human flourishing. This is not just limited to the happiness of pleasure, but also to our sense of value, virtue, meaning, and purpose.
A happy life is a meaningful life: a life of genuine happiness and the experience of eudaimonia.
Gratitude is the foundation upon which a meaningful life is built and sustained. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, defines gratitude as: “the feeling of reverence for things that are given.” He goes on to state that “gratitude stems from the perception of a positive personal outcome, not necessarily deserved or earned, that is due to the actions of another person.”
Gratitude motivates us to make positive changes in our lives as well as the world around us, through feelings of connection, elevation, modesty, and a sincere and committed responsibility to our purpose and values. Although gratitude is commonly associated with external objects, we also benefit greatly when we can cultivate gratitude for others and ourselves. We can develop this within a regular mindfulness practice.
What is the relationship between gratitude and mindfulness?
Gratitude is an attitude. It colors and defines the way we see the world and ourselves. It can be the antidote to jealousy, envy, cynicism and negativity. It can allow us to overcome the pains of our past and provides inspiration and creativity towards the future. In present-time awareness, gratitude can be an emotion we feel in our bodies. A feeling of warmth and groundedness, a slowing and settling of our breath, accompanied by a soft spaciousness in the chest and heart-center. The intensity of gratitude can also produce tears of joy, elation, and an automatic and uncontrollable smile. If practiced, we can learn how to lean on our practice of gratitude when life presents challenges and difficulties. Here, gratitude doesn’t equate to a blind and vacant optimism, but rather a confident and heartfelt response to whatever adversity we encounter.
A regular mindfulness practice is the most effective tool that can be used to cultivate gratitude. Each time we sit, we can be reminded of why we practice; to become a better friend to the people we love and those we teach and learn from. We become grateful for the people in our lives that motivate, challenge, and inspire us. Most importantly, we become grateful to ourselves for our joys, successes, and our commitment to creating positive change in our lives and in this world. If we can remember to recognize our potential for gratitude, more often than not, we may feel that sense of warmth and ease in our bodies and minds after our mindfulness practice; if we can remember to recognize our potential for gratitude.