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What is gratitude? Gratitude is not simply an emotion, at least not a primary one. This is probably why it is challenging to create a gratitude emoji without the little folded hands or at least some added text.
Etymologically, gratitude has roots in the Latin word gratia, which means grace. To say “thank you” in romance languages like Italian or Spanish is “grazie” or “gracias,” respectively, and literally translates to “graces.”
The original meaning of grace is “unmerited favor, love or help.” Accordingly, gratitude can be practiced by appreciating what is given to us, unearned. This could be the unexpected service of a stranger, the soothing song of a bird, or a beautiful sunset. We can also recognize all that goes into preparing our food when we say “grace” or give thanks before a meal.
Gratitude has origins in a few other ancient languages that contain similar and additional clues to this age-old outlook. In Sanskrit, it is kritajna, which is a compound word derived from kripa (grace) and jnana (knowledge). In ancient Greek, the word for grace is charis. Mythologically, when an aspirant is adept at this spiritual practice of knowing the blessings, he or she is bestowed with charismata – an aura of magnetism and source of inspiration for others.
In modern times, there are many scientifically validated benefits related to gratitude practice. In a series of studies, participants were asked to practice gratitude primarily by keeping a gratitude journal at night. The findings revealed that increasing gratitude for three weeks led to improved sleep, less pain, lower blood pressure, more life satisfaction, optimism and compassion, among many other physical, psychological and social benefits.
Emerging research of the brain reveals more health insights. What we pay attention to and think about is very important, and is actually a type of exercise for the brain. For example, if worries keep us up at night, we get better at dwelling on the negative through this habitual pattern. Alternatively, the regular practice of gratitude and focusing on the positives before bed can help reverse that tendency and improve our ability to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted MRI studies of participants reporting higher levels of gratitude during different psychological experiments. The imaging revealed increased activity and stimulation in the hypothalamus, which is involved in sleep and digestion. How interesting to think that genuinely offering thanks before a meal may help prepare our bodies to better digest and assimilate nutrition from our food!
So, how can you grow gratitude in your own life?
Gratitude contains the word “attitude.” By choosing to focus our attention on the good things we experience, we can develop a positive attitude and feel more positive emotions like happiness and contentment.
Becoming more grateful and developing a positive attitude does not happen casually. Like anything else, it requires some regular practice.
Consider starting a gratitude journal and commit to writing every night about five positive experiences that happened throughout the day. Do this for at least two weeks. Instead of merely making a gratitude list, reflect on and appreciate the grace in your life. In time, you will get better at recognizing the goodness around you, mindfully participating in it, and remembering it.
With a more grateful and open heart, you can navigate life with a sense of fullness. This not only contributes to your own health and overall well-being but to peace in the world.
Out of abundance and deep appreciation for our gifts, comes the willingness to share, cooperate and love ourselves and others. Become a seeker of inspiration and a collector of positivity. May you be grateful and may you be charismatic.
We all have the ability to develop an attitude of gratitude. Learn how.
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