by Berenice Boxler. 

“Thank you.” Probably more than once a day we use this little word, but it quickly becomes a phrase, a polite necessity. We are brought up to kindness and learn this little word – in connection with “please” – in early childhood. I too pay attention to whether my children express their appreciation when given a taster at the cheese counter. Gratitude is much more than a friendly acknowledgment.

Gratitude, one of the nine qualities of mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is not just an answer to someone or for some gift. Genuine gratitude needs no impulse and no receiving something in advance. Gratitude is especially nurturing when we feel it for what we already have.

I can be grateful for the ability to see and to feel the sun on my skin. I am grateful to my body for carrying me through life every day. And so much more… A meditation teacher once said he is currently deeply grateful for the absence of toothache.

Gratitude is a superpower:

  • Gratitude makes you happy. There are studies that show that a conscious practice of gratitude makes optimism stronger, inspires more and makes happier. But even without research, it is clear that regular feelings and expressions of gratitude increase the inner contentment and appreciation for what we have – and therefore we are less concerned about what we do not (yet) have.
  • Gratitude improves relationships. Honest and sincerely expressed gratitude for the small and large gestures in a relationship can greatly improve the general atmosphere, be it with love partners, in the family or in the professional life.
  • Gratitude helps against sleep disorders. This is the result of a study by Alex M. Wood of the University of Stirling, one of the world‘s most respected gratitude researchers. He and his team were able to show that people who feel and practice gratitude, sleep better and fall asleep more easily. Tip: If next time in bed in the evening, your head starts rolling its worrying slope again, maybe try a gratitude exercise? It certainly cannot harm…
  • Gratitude reduces stress and promotes well-being. Studies such as those by Martin Seligman and Tracy Steen have shown that exercises such as gratitude help reduce stress levels. Put simply, anyone who considers what he is grateful for cannot think about problems or fears at the same time. Further studies show that we feel less alone, have fewer physical stress symptoms, and have more energy.

Gratitude for being alive

Gratitude allows us to wake up to the wonders and richness of the present moment and not take things for granted. We breathe, we are alive, we have eyes and ears, etc. – This is usually not worth mentioning for us, but it should be. Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand: we can‘t be grateful for things that we are not aware of. As with all emotions, there is no black or white, it is a mixture. For example, I can be grateful for the new opportunities I have after having moved countries, and – at the same time – be sad at the friendships left behind. The one feeling does not exclude the other. Everything is allowed, even at the same time.

To notice good things, when and wherever they are, always brings us out of this dangerous vortex of thought, in which we quickly see the world as a place where bad things happen or where nothing works out the way we want. In reality, life consists of good and bad, but our brain is designed to pay more attention to the bad (so-called “negativity bias” of the brain). Mindful gratitude helps us to appreciate the beautiful moments of life, while on the other hand we are better able to create such moments for others.

Practices for more gratitude

There are many ways to practice gratitude and thus to nurture and strengthen the inner sense of fullness: e.g. journaling about things you are grateful for, consciously opening the eyes and perceiving the beautiful, honestly saying “I thank you” for a friendly gesture, thinking of 10 things you are grateful for (everything is fine here, be it “delicious breakfast”, “my healthy children”, or “having been in time for the bus”), or using imagination and 5 fingers for this exercise:

Thumb: What strengths and talents am I proud of?
Pointer finger: What in nature inspires and excites me?
Middle finger: Whom can I be of benefit today?
Ring finger: Who do I love from the bottom of my heart?
Little finger: For what in my life am I deeply grateful?

(Source: https://karrierebibel.de/dankbarkeit/, last loaded on 14.4.2019, 13:54).
As with any practice, the secret is regularity. The more often we practice it, the stronger it will get in us. Gratitude does not cost anything while it gives us so much. So what are you waiting for?

I thank you very much for reading this article!

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