by Sonia Sharma
What is gratitude?
For centuries, gratitude has been studied by scholars, practitioners, researchers, philosophers and included in the world’s religions, but what exactly is gratitude? It has been called a spectrum of things, everything from it being an attitude, disposition, emotion, personality trait, mood, habit, to behaviour. The Oxford dictionary defines gratitude as ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.’ Gratitude may be an easy intellectual concept to grasp, but the importance of its consistent practice cannot be overstated in self-healing.
The role of gratitude in self-healing
A number of neurological and scientific studies have shown that gratitude enhances mental and psychological health. Studies by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., scientific expert researcher and professor on gratitude, demonstrate a link between gratitude and higher level of happiness and lower levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. Other studies have shown an improvement in physical health by soothing pain, increasing well-being, and sleeping better.
Dr. Emmons (2003) explains that gratitude has two stages. In the first stage, it is affirmed that the elements of goodness exist in life. This means that we allow ourselves to focus on the good parts. In the second stage, it is recognized that the sources of these elements exist beyond the self, these good things are done for you by others
. Let us go a little deeper and apply these two stages in our lives.
- In the first stage, what are the elements of goodness in your life? This is not to deny the wrongdoing, pain, betrayal, or grief, but to balance our view or, rather, have a fuller view of what is happening. Often, we tend to aggrandise the negative and the bad when, in reality, it is a smaller percentage of what is actually happening.
Emerson put it best: ‘Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.’
Bringing ourselves in gratitude refocuses our attention on things, events and people that are valuable to us. It puts the hurt or injustice in its rightful place. Instead of a long list of expectations and disappointments, we turn to gratitude and the real abundance of the present. In light of gratitude, we lift ourselves from the darkness of toxic emotions. We decide to treat ourselves gently and compassionately. Can we count our blessings? Can we count our blessings in disguise?
- In the second stage, who or what are the sources of goodness beyond you? Is it nature, animals, the sun, moon, and stars? Is it the good food, clean water, decent health, and a place to live? Is it your education? Is it loved ones? How about life itself?
Gratitude is transformative in self-healing. When we shift our focus from being in the complaining, cynical, critical, stressful, fearful, or negative mode to acknowledging what we do have and what is going the right way for us, we begin to change our mental, emotional and psychological landscape in preparation for better things or situations to come. We become resilient.
Practicing gratitude: Action Steps
According to Brother David Steindl-Rast, gratefulness leads to happiness, not the other way around. Happiness doesn’t necessarily lead to gratitude. In other words, happiness itself is
dependent on other conditions while gratitude is the unconditional wellspring for happiness.
He has put forth a method to practice gratitude with the steps of ‘stop, look, go.’ First, we must stop and get off the auto pilot. Then, we must look and take stock of the good in our life. Finally, we go with gratitude.
Some people have also found journaling, art and other creative endeavours helpful in expressing appreciation. I find that saying thanks for another beautiful day in my life only takes a few seconds but starts the day or night right.
A meditation on gratitude
I invite you to write a short meditation on gratitude. Here is an example:
I am so grateful for all the wonderful things in my life, starting from when I was born, how I was fed and clothed. I am thankful for my childhood, the teenage years, through adulthood and till this moment. I am so thankful to be living, breathing, and feeling who I really am right now. I am thankful to be awake and alive!
Thank you for all the kind, sweet, and gentle moments. I am thankful for my health, job, and loved ones.
Today, I am grateful to see how worthy I am of being treated better, of treating others better. Thank you for showing me what my body and heart already knew to be true!
A space for you to self-heal with gratitude:
- What are three things you are grateful for today?
- Which 3 people do you treasure? What might you say if you were sending them a note?
- List some things that were amazing in your childhood or teen years.
- What are some things you are grateful to have learned or discovered from your disappointments?
- Which things are you grateful for regarding your future? How do you feel supported?
- In what way can you easily incorporate a daily small practice of gratitude in your
Sonia Sharma is a speaker and author in the personal development industry. Her work centers on self-healing and living one's best life. She has also served as a University Lecturer for the last 15 years at various prestigious institutions such as Stanford, Columbia University and UC Berkeley. She has been interviewed on radio and television shows, participated and presented at international conferences and published articles and books. She can be reached at email@example.com.