This is your brain on Gratitude
This week, with the literal holiday of thanks breathing down our necks, I think it's high time to discuss gratitude. Not shallow gratitude like the weak answer you snort out right before you sink your teeth into thanksgiving dinner-- we're talking meaningful gratitude. Gratitude that showed you are truly aware for the subtle moments of grace that made way for big moments of awesome.
For example, take, "I'm grateful for my health." Well, good, you should be, but what else can you be grateful for that contributed to that health? What does having good health allow you to do now or in the future? Those are just two angles to think about your health. I'm not asking for a massive breakdown of every little thing that got you to your seat today, but when you are grateful for one big thing, you could easily find 100s of smaller things that had to occur perfectly in concert to create that one big thing you're so proud of.
This awareness of the small things, and wonder for life's strange twists and turns, is a form of mindfulness. Any time we place awareness on the mind's thoughts as separate entities passing before us on a screen, or however your mind imagines it, we are tuning in to the present moment and nothing else. Consciousness of what we think is at the heart of mindfulness, and with that consciousness, gratitude may follow.
The goal of mindfulness practices are to reduce stress, in fact, there is a technique called "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction" that has been extensively shown to modulate the immune system in various populations. That means, the took groups of people, drew their blood, meditated with them for 8-12 weeks, drew their blood again, and saw actual changes in immune system activity. This may be explained by the fact that meditation or mindfulness works to calm the nervous system-- the captain of the immune system.
Something I like to offer my patients is guided meditation while receiving acupuncture treatments. As you passively receive your treatment, you may sit/lay silently and use your own discipline to practice mindfulness, or you may use some coaching. This is extremely helpful for those who feel they "can't get out of their own way" or their mind is frequently racing, hopping from one topic to another.
So my challenge for you this week-- while you're running around cursing up a storm because the water for the potatoes boiled over, and someone decided to bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner: notice your breath; did you stop breathing altogether? Notice how none of this will matter 30 days from now, definitely not a year from now, and take 3 minutes to breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Remove your shoulders from your earlobes, and think about what your jaw is doing. Is it clamped together like a bear trap? You know what to do.