Gratitude practice is a natural antidepressant. When we take a moment to ask what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated. Production of dopamine and serotonin increases and these neurotransmitters then travel neural pathways to the “bliss” center of the brain — similar to the mechanisms of many antidepressants. Practicing gratitude, therefore, can be a way to naturally create the same effects of medications and create feelings of contentment.
How I started my gratitude practice
I was returning from a visit to the doctor’s office feeling more than a little sorry for myself. Recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, my life had since been thrown into a maze of endless visits to doctors. There were endless consultations peppered with probing questions with of course no resolution in sight. For there is no cure for MS and the medication gives me only a 50% chance of not having a relapse.
And then there are all the rules – avoid temperature changes, don’t go out in the sun, avoid stress, don’t touch alcohol…the list is endless. So here I was feeling pretty maudlin. As we were approaching home, it started to rain. Big fat drops of rain fell on the windscreen. We were a few minutes from home. Just as we were pulling into the gates of our community I saw a girl walking on the road. She was soaked to the skin and she obviously had some problem with her legs because she was using crutches. She was hobbling along as quickly as she could towards a building.
I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet. – Helen Keller
A great wave of shame swept over me. Here I was sitting within the safe confines of my car a few minutes from what was a beautiful home surrounded by family and wonderful neighbors. And I was feeling sorry for myself! That moment was like an epiphany – a wake-up call for me.
Right there, right then, I realized I had a choice. I could choose to take notice of the good in my life and focus on it or I could choose to wallow in misery. I chose to live a life of gratitude and I have been basing my life on the gratitude code since then.
This incident happened almost two and a half years ago and I would like to share my gratitude code with you which I have been practicing since then.
How to Start a Gratitude Practice and Change Your Life for Good
Here’s a little gratitude game I like to play most mornings before I meditate. I ask myself to:
Name a person I am thankful for – I name anyone from among my family and friends who have helped me in some way or who has given me a chance to help them
Name a place I am thankful for – It can be my secluded little sitout where I meditate or a garden close to home which I like to get away to sometimes or just my study where I am surrounded by much-loved books
Name a thing I am thankful for – I name anything that has brought me joy in recent times. It can be something as simple as reading a good book, drinking a cup of tea after a long day at work or playing with my pets
Name two of life’s blessings – Here’s where I count my blessings
Name a skill I am thankful for – I name anything from my ability to write to my ability to see the birds flying in the sky or my ability to make a dessert my family enjoys
Name two good things that happened the previous day – It can be anything from a chance call from a friend to an evening walk to reading a good book or it can even be something more momentous
I call this my Gratitude Menu and when things get tough my little Gratitude Menu keeps me going. As I am writing this, it occurs to me that it may be a good idea to keep a little Gratitude Journal where I can write down my Gratitude Menu for the day. I think I shall start doing this starting tomorrow.
If you read through my Gratitude Menu carefully, you will notice that the big things in life are not on the menu. It’s mostly simple everyday things because these are the things I savor and enjoy most.
So what’s the point of creating this Gratitude Menu you may ask? Here’s the thing – the happiest people are those who feel thankful on an ongoing basis. Those who have a grateful mindset and have learned to count life’s blessings are the most blessed.
The Importance of Gratitude
Gratitude – An Ingredient that Nourishes the Mind
Gratitude is to the mind what food is to the body. Gratitude nourishes the mind and helps it blossom and grow. There are some who are very monied and who are living in the lap of luxury. Yet they seem to be infected by the bug of restlessness as they flit meaninglessly from one party to another, acquisition of one object after another, never satisfied always seeking that elusive sense of satisfaction which eludes them. And so they wander through the corridors of life with jaded expressions on their faces wondering why things fail to satisfy them. And then there are others who have relatively little in comparison but seem to be remarkably content with life. What’s the secret to their contentment? They have learned to be grateful for what they have. They count life’s blessings – both the big and the little ones.
Benefits of the Gratitude Code
People who live by the gratitude code swear by the various ways in which it benefits them. Grateful people:
· Have more meaningful and solid relationships in their lives
· Demonstrate unshakeable optimism in the face of problems and difficulties
· Have an inner confidence in themselves and their abilities
· Have strong problem-solving abilities
· Lead richer and fuller lives
Developing an Attitude of Gratitude
So how can you develop an attitude of gratitude? Here is a Gratitude Wheel that you can use to help you develop an attitude of gratitude.
Churning the Gratitude Wheel
1. Mental Affirmations: Count your blessings as soon as you wake up and at night before you close your eyes in sleep. List all the good things that are present in your life. Don’t take anything for granted. Say thank you for the food you have eaten, the friends and family who made you smile in the course of the day, the clothes you are wearing, the books you may be reading, the music you may have heard…. the list is pretty endless and may vary from person to person. Some of you may be thinking that it is pretty pointless to say thank you every day for something as basic as the food you are eating. When that thought strikes you, just think of the starving millions in the world. This simple yet meaningful exercise in mentally affirming your gratitude goes a long way in helping you savor the small pleasures in life.
2. Speak It Out Aloud: Can you recall the warm glow of happiness you felt deep down inside you when someone verbally appreciated something you may have done or accomplished? Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can recreate this warmth and happiness in others? Wouldn’t it be nice to thank people regularly for the big and small things they do for you? Thank the doorman who opens the door for you, thank your spouse for a small gesture of thoughtfulness, thank the waiter at the restaurant who serves you food, pay someone a compliment for a job well done…string your life with an endless array of small and big ‘thank yous’ that show people you notice the things they are doing for you and appreciate it. A simple hug and thank you is the best way to show someone you care and aren’t taking them for granted.
3. Write It Down: Keep a gratitude journal or diary in which you can list the things that you are grateful for. Drop a short gratitude note or email to someone thanking them for something they may have done for you.
4. Give it back to the universe: The wheel of life is circular and what goes round comes round. When you practice an attitude of gratitude, you will be filled with a sense of the abundance in your life and you will find yourself wishing to share this abundance through small random acts of kindness. I call it repaying the universe for the things you have received.