Is it cliché to talk about Gratitude around Thanksgiving? No, well yes, but I’ll try to make it thought provoking. (Smile.)
Many of us are probably already aware, without a tremendous need for scientific evidence, of the benefits of gratitude. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we do feel better when we feel grateful. We’ve all experienced that at some time in our lives, and we probably would all agree that we should practice it more regularly. This is not going to be a “how to” on developing more gratitude. There are countless websites that have lists and tests and other tools to help you with that. What I really hoped to achieve by this exercise was a better understanding of why gratitude has these powerful effects on us. Why does gratitude make us: happier, healthier, less stressed, less depressed, better sleepers, more resilient, and better friends, partners and family members? How does it work? What’s happening inside of our mind and body to allow for such transformation and healing, simply by feeling grateful? Spoiler alert…I haven’t found the answer.
As I wandered through the endless trails of information on the internet, I struggled to find something, anything that really explained what was happening inside of our bodies when we experience gratitude. One article was even titled “The Neuroscience of Gratitude,” but all it outlined were the effects on people who practiced gratitude. That’s not neuroscience! I am NOT giving up, but in order to meet my Thanksgiving deadline, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by another interesting aspect of gratitude, and one whose relevance will soon be obvious.
In my browsing, I learned that Robert Emmons is perhaps the world’s greatest expert and supporter of gratitude. He spends his life researching it, its effects on people, and he helps people practice it in order to enhance their own lives. He explains gratitude as having two components: 1) an affirmation of the existence of goodness; and 2) a recognition that this goodness comes from some place outside of or beyond us. The first component seems to me to be another way of stating hopefulness. If we can acknowledge that goodness exists in this moment, this then proves that goodness exists in general and therefore, we can feel hope that more goodness stands to be created. We all want more goodness! Hope is a big subject unto itself, and I will likely have to save that for another blog post, so for now let’s just all take a big inhale and exhale feeling comforted that there’s so much more goodness waiting to exist.
It’s the second component of Emmons’ definition that stood out to me as something I had not deeply considered before. If gratitude contains this notion that goodness comes from some place outside of us, then we are relinquishing control, we are recognizing we are not complete on our own, we are accepting the ways in which we are connected to others, and we are humbling our ego back into its proper place. In other words, this act of acknowledging that something outside of us had a direct impact on us, we are practicing an elevated form of consciousness. Whether you want to call it expanded consciousness, group consciousness or universal consciousness, it’s an awareness that we are all connected and that through someone else’s good action, you have received some goodness. It strengthens your connection to that person and creates an energetic connection between the two of you as well. I am not alone in this thinking. Various thinkers and writers have spent time sharing their thoughts on this subject in different nooks and crannies of the web. Some don’t believe that gratitude alone can expand one’s consciousness. For me, it’s too early to tell, but I will certainly make it a part of my regular practice. Maybe we can call it Gratitude Yoga, or maybe there’s no need to label it all.
So I’ll leave you with this. As you are sitting around the Thanksgiving table and Mom, Grandma, Auntie Em or some other gratitude enthusiast asks you to share what you are thankful for, you can start by being thankful for her question as it allows you to practice the yoga or meditation that you might have skipped on your day off. You can actually be in your practice and be eating Thanksgiving dinner at the same exact time. It’s a practice you can literally take anywhere, and that really is something to be grateful for.