Mind & Spirit : NST Life & Times 1/6/2010
By CHIM LI YEN
If you look to others for fulfilment, you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself.
Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.
When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
— Lao Tzu
WHEN was the last time you said “thank you” or felt deep gratitude for certain things in life?
Gratitude is a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. True gratitude is a natural response to the miracle of life as we experience it, moment to moment. It gives us a sense of abundance from the heart, which is independent of our desires of the future. There are countless advantages of bringing gratitude into our lives. Gratitude makes us feel good because it helps widen our frame of vision.
Under stress, we tend to develop tunnel vision and see only the problem or difficulty. We get overwhelmed by sadness, hopelessness or anger that arises when we think about the current situation. We get so caught up in a certain way of thinking that it seems that there is no other way out. When we experience a sense of gratitude, the world suddenly seems brighter and other options immediately become visible.
Gratitude creates a sense of fullness or abundance. True kindness is the result of an overflow from this fullness. It is a beautiful cycle. The more you feel grateful, the stronger the impulse towards giving. The more you give, the more you get — love, friendship, a sense of purpose, compliments and of course, wealth. Recent scientific research suggests that people who are more grateful have a higher level of well-being.
Positive emotions like gratitude and love have beneficial effects on our physical health. They strengthen our immune system through the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, enabling the body to resist disease and recover faster from illness. Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers. One of their effects is the stimulation of the dilation of blood vessels leading to a relaxed heart.
Conversely, negative emotions such as despair, worry and agitation increase the level of adrenaline in the body which contributes to the development of stroke and heart disease. Adrenaline constricts the blood vessels, raises blood pressure and is potentially damaging to the heart and arteries in the long run.
Andre Dubus once wrote: “It is not hard to live through a day if you live through the moment. What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand.” Gratitude brings us back to the present moment to all that is perfect right now. Tomorrow may bring some difficulties but for now, things are pretty good.
Giving thanks for what we have in life is like that diet tip we are familiar with – waiting for 20 minutes after eating so the body can register that it is full. It allows us to register on the emotional and spiritual level that we have been given enough. Nothing destroys a sense of gratitude that being told we “should” feel grateful. Guilt, whether imposed by others or self-inflicted, is fatal.
Gratitude is generated in two ways — by a spontaneous opening of the heart toward the wonders of life and the other, by a conscious decision to practice looking at what’s right in our life rather than focusing on the missing pieces. By putting our attitudes of gratitude into action, we fulfil our full potential by acknowledging who we are and everything we have been blessed with.
Here are some suggestions on how you can instill this positive habit in your life.
● Don’t buy anything new for two weeks. Walk around your house and really look at all the objects in your life. Give thanks for them and watch the effect it has on your desire to buy more.
● Slow down and smell the roses. Appreciate the things you usually take for granted. Open your heart and five senses to the amazing world around you by noticing the brilliantly-hued crimson bougainvillea in your garden, the taste of the fragrant rice in your nasi lemak and the soft, delicate skin on a child’s cheek.
● Look for the hidden blessing in any situation. Write down the five most horrific events that have happened to you and see the gifts that each one of them brought. They might have given you inner strength, taught you patience and non-judgment.
● Focus on what you need instead of what you want. Life becomes so much simpler and it is easier to feel grateful.
- The two biggest enemies of gratitude are bitterness and resentment, so forgiveness is crucial to prepare us to truly feel appreciation in life. True forgiveness releases us from the victim mode we sometimes take on and assists us to move forward. One of my teachers constantly reminds us that we know once we have truly forgiven when we feel intense gratitude for that person or situation.
- Keep a gratitude journal and commit to listing 10 things you are grateful for every day. It can be something very simple like a comforting bowl of soup, healthy legs to support your movements or a phone call from an old friend.
- Bring awareness to your daily routine. Pick a task you do everyday and decide to infuse it with awareness by paying attention while you are at it instead of being on auto-pilot and thinking about something else.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and allowing me to share my humble thoughts with you.
The writer is a co-founder of The Violet Flame Holistic Shop and Therapy Centre, Bangsar. Check out the website at www.thevioletflame.com.my